Fire clouds: Pyrocumulus, firenados and more

Smoke from the Bootleg fire can be seen from Sprague River Road. The Bootleg fire, located approximately 27 miles northeast of Klamath Falls, Oregon, ignited on July 6, due to an unknown cause. Currently at 227,234 acres, It is the largest wildfire in the United States. The fire now stretches for 31 miles and grows about two or three miles a day. There are approximately 2000 firefighters combating the fire, which is at 7 percent containment. Photo by Dan Morrison

The sight of a pyrocumulus cloud just makes your jaw drop.

“You go, ‘Oh my, wow,’ ” Peter Brewer, wildfire smoke coordinator for the Oregon Department says in a bonus episode of GreenState.

Pyrocumulus clouds form over wildfires and can tower thousands of feet into the sky. Smoke is a main ingredient. Learn more about these fire clouds, as well as pyrocumulonimbus and firenados in the bonus episode.

Firenados are tornado-like twisters born in the weather generated by a massive blaze, says Ryan Sandler, warning coordination coordinator for the National Weather Service in Medford. He notes that the term isn’t in official weather vocabulary.

“The firenado is actually connected and spinning with the pyrocumulus clouds,” he says.

Toppled trees in the aftermath of a “firenado” at the Bootleg Fire east of Klamath Falls in summer 2021. Photo credit: National Weather Service

The Bootleg Fire east of Klamath Falls this summer produced pyrocumulus and photos show that there likely was a firenado.

Depending which way winds are blowing, smoke in the clouds produced by a fire may lower air quality near or far away from the flames, Sandler says.

“If a city happens to be downwind you’re going to get a lot of smoke.”

Smoke from the Bootleg Fire rose into jet streams, which carried it and other smoke from wildfires around the West as far away as the East Coast. So, a pyrocumulus cloud in Oregon contributed to hazy July days in New York City.

– Dylan Darling, DEQ public affairs specialist

Smoke from the Bootleg Fire in Oregon and other wildfires around the West shrouded New York City in haze in late July 2021. Photo credit: National Weather Service

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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