Fire Tornado: California Sees Blazing Pillars as Wildfires Spread

Image: Fire Tornado: California Sees Blazing Pillars as Wildfires Spread A "firenado" tears through a field on May 3, 2014 in St. Joseph, Missouri. Part fire, part tornado, this blazing twister was spotted by Missouri native Janae Copelin while out driving.

Friday, 16 May 2014 08:15 AM

By Jonna Lorenz

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Wind-whipped flames spawned spinning columns of fire known as fire tornadoes (or firenadoes) in southern California this week, heightening fears as officials battle wildfires that continue to rage out of control.

Several firenadoes were caught on tape in and around San Diego, according to Vox Media.

The phenomenon occurs when heavy winds and raging fire collide. Temperatures in a firenado can reach 2,000 degrees, according to Vos.

Comparable to dust devils or waterspouts, fire tornadoes typical last only a few minutes.

Firenadoes are difficult to extinguish and can suck in burning debris and spread it for miles. They can reach up to 100 feet in height and about 10 feet wide.

Nine fires had burned more than 9,000 acres in the San Diego County by late Wednesday, Reuters reported, and a fire at Camp Pendleton was still raging as firefighters try to contain it.

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California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.

Evacuations near the wildfires included a state university in San Marcos and a Legoland amusement park in Carlsbad.

Hot, dry conditions are fueling the fires, with temperatures expected to break Friday.

The state saw its driest year on record in 2013, according to The Weather Channel.

California has seen almost double the average number of fires so far this year, with 1,351 fires documented in California as of May 10, compared with an average of 711 for that time period, The Weather Channel reported. About 77 percent of the state is classified as in extreme drought.

The California wildfires aren’t the only recent sighting of firenadoes. A photo of a firenado near Chillicothe, Missouri, went viral earlier this month. A video of a firenado at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado was posted in March.

Twitter users shared photos and exclamations about the phenomenon.

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