California wildfire has launched a ‘volcanic eruption’-sized smoke cloud

·4-min read
California wildfire has launched a ‘volcanic eruption’-sized smoke cloud

The Mosquito Fire is raging in northern California, sending the forest into flames as smoke billows out into the sky.

The cloud of smoke has gotten so big that people are comparing it to a volcanic eruption. This kind of smoke formation indicates an intense wildfire, which arrives during an ongoing drought and a punishing California heatwave — the kind of conditions that are likely to become even more common as the climate crisis grows.

“Wow, & yikes, are all I’ve got to say,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles tweeted, along with photos of the gigantic smoke clouds. “Explosive wildfire plumes like this--which resemble, from meteorological perspective, volcanic eruptions or nuclear explosions--are all too common these days.”

The Mosquito Fire is burning west of Lake Tahoe, spreading smoke all the way into the Sacramento area and covering nearly 30,000 acres — roughly 40 times the size of New York’s Central Park — as of Friday morning.

Craig Clements, a climate scientist at San José State University, told The Washington Post that it was “the most intense fire of the season in northern California.”

The Post reports that the smoke plums from the Mosquito Fire have reached up 40,000 ft (12,192 m) hight, powered by the severity of the blaze.

When fires get that big and hot, they can start to alter the weather and produce “pyrocumulus” clouds, which are gigantic clouds that loom over a blaze and can even lead to thunder and lightning.

The massive amount of smoke billowing up from the wildfire and spreading into the air looks like a volcano spewing huge plumes of gas.

The Placer County sheriff’s office has reported that flames as high as 100 feet (30 metres) tall have been spotted.

The fire has more than doubled in size since Thursday, spreading into the edges of the small community of Volcanoville. California Governor Gavin Newsom has issued an emergency for El Dorado and Placer counties in response to the fire, and both counties have areas under mandatory evacuation orders.

Several homes in Volcanoville have been destroyed by the blaze, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

In addition, smoke from the fire could cover up the sky in many parts of the state. This could threaten up to 60 per cent of the state’s solar power production, the Chronicle reports.

California’s electricity grid has already been extremely stressed over the past week as intense heat has led people to turn on their air conditioners and push energy demand to record highs.

The Mosquito Fire is still entirely uncontained, and fire officials predicted further spread as hot and dry conditions continue in the area.

Much of El Dorado and Placer counties are still under an “excessive heat warning” as a result of the ongoing and record-breaking heatwave, with high temperatures in the area expected to reach near 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) on Friday.

Another major wildfire, the Fairview Fire, is burning near Hemet, California, in the southern end of the state. That blaze has reached more than 27,000 acres and killed two people after erupting on Monday.

A total of 16 major fires are burning across the state as of Friday, according to Cal Fire, many of them sparked by the punishing heatwave.

Wildfires are liable to get much worse over the coming decades as the climate crisis grows. Both heatwaves and droughts -- two conditions that can help spark and spread blazes — are expected to become both more common and more intense as the planet heats up.

That risk is especially high in the western US, where wide open spaces are common, and drought has been particularly severe. A recent report found that 800,000 properties in the West are at “extreme” risk of burning in the next 30 years.

In the past few years, California has faced serious drought that has shrivelled the landscape and left it prime for burning. The ongoing dry conditions are part of a decades-long “megadrought”, powered in part by the climate crisis, that has wreaked havoc on water supplies in the western US.