‘Incredible’ fire tornadoes spotted in California as wildfire rages, video shows

Fire whirls or tornadoes appeared as crews battled the Tenaja Fire in Murrieta, California, video shows.
Fire whirls or tornadoes appeared as crews battled the Tenaja Fire in Murrieta, California, video shows. Screen grab from Mark Mester/KTLA video on Twitter

A wildfire raging in Southern California spawned fire tornadoes earlier this week, and the dramatic spectacle was captured on video.

KTLA’s Mark Mester posted footage Thursday on Twitter showing what he called an “incredible” fire whirl amid the Tenaja Fire in Murrieta, California.

Mester’s post has been retweeted more than 200 times, and the video has more than 30,000 views on the social network.

“(Fire tornadoes) are similar to dust devils, where the ground gets so hot it has to escape somehow,” said Mike Kochasic of the National Weather Service, according to Patch. “The fires created such a hot surface temperature in the ground that the air had to go upward.”

Patch reported that “in the most recent one we’ve seen on camera, a news reporter covering the Tenaja Fire spotted not just one, but two, fire whirls. The two tornadoes were side-by-side, sending two distinct black smoke plumes into the already-ash-ridden sky.”

The National Weather Service in San Diego explained on Twitter that “fire whirls are surface-based and primarily affected by the near-surface environment, rather than large-scale atmospheric instability.” That message came in response to a person who asked if atmospheric instability was causing the fire tornadoes in Murrieta.

The blaze in Riverside County is 2,000 acres and 20 percent contained, threatening Murrieta and the community of La Cresta, CAL FIRE said in a Friday morning update.

CAL FIRE said the blaze has damaged two structures and threatens 1,200 structures, with one firefighter reported injured so far. The fire started Wednesday and the cause is under investigation.

On Friday morning, CAL FIRE said local evacuation orders had been lifted to evacuation warnings. Those evacuation warnings were still in effect on Friday afternoon.

Earlier this week, fire crews saved homes in the fire-threatened communities southeast of Los Angeles even as winds blew flames dangerously close to Murrieta and La Cresta, the Associated Press reported.

“The front of the fire came right down into the neighborhood. There was just a massive amount of fuel on those hillsides,” said Capt. Fernando Herrera with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, according to AP.

Officials had put 570 homes under mandatory evacuation and 2,200 more under voluntary evacuation, according to AP.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.