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Tamarack Fire creates a possible tornado

Extreme fire behavior developing at the Tamarack Fire near Markleeville, CA
Credit: KXTV

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Tamarack Fire burning south of Lake Tahoe near Markleeville is producing extreme weather conditions.

Video shows what looks like a rope tornado near the fire lines.

This summer, fires in the Sierra Nevada have been burning so hot they are creating fire-generated vortices and tornadoes. These dangerous weather hazards are driven by intense heating from the fire that draws air in from the sides and can produce updrafts up to 130 miles per hour.

Neil Lareau, at the University of Nevada, Reno researching high-impact weather in the western United States, said these are basically ordinary tornadoes on steroids.

His research foci include: fire weather and wildfire plume dynamics, complex terrain boundary layers, cumulus convection, orographic precipitation, and synoptic-scale weather systems. 

He's seeing the most intense tornado-like activity linked to fire-generated thunderstorms called pyrocumulonimbus.

Lareau also says the backdrop to all this is our warming climate. He says it's an emerging pattern, but fire behavior is changing quickly. Year after year, we're seeing larger, more intense fires and the opportunity to experience extreme fire behavior is growing.

As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, the Tamarack Fire was nearly 44,000 acres.


California Wildfires: Dixie, Tamarack, Beckworth, and Frenchtown fires causing smoke issues.