In California, Crews Battle Fire Tornadoes

State's first big wildfire of the year erupted Friday, is still 0% contained
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 1, 2023 12:17 PM CDT
In California, Crews Battle Fire Tornadoes
Joshua Trees burn in the York Fire, Sunday, July 30, 2023, in the Mojave National Preserve, Calif.   (AP Photo/Ty O'Neil)

After a slow start to the wildfire season, California is feeling the heat with its biggest blaze of the year. First spotted Friday in the New York Mountains area of the Mojave National Preserve in eastern San Bernardino County, the York Fire had burned thorough 77,000 acres as of Monday with 0% containment. Much of the damage is restricted to the remote national preserve, though the blaze crossed the state line into western Nevada on Sunday, eating up delicate Joshua Tree forests along the way, per the Los Angeles Times. It also destroyed the National Park Service's Kousch House, which was eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, reports Axios. Officials say endangered Mojave desert tortoises are also at risk.

It's unclear how the blaze started, with an investigation ongoing. Open fires had been banned in the national preserve for more than a week before Friday. "Even though we had a good moisture year with the [winter] season, the very high temperatures that came in July were a concern for our fire folks," Sierra Willoughby, a supervisory park ranger at the preserve, tells the Times. A wet winter and cool spring delayed the onset of fire conditions, but it also fueled the growth of invasive grasses and underbrush in the Mojave Desert. Officials say that vegetation is now fueling the York Fire.

Another fire, the Bonny Fire, is burning in Riverside County, with limited evacuation orders issued. But it covered just 2,300 acres as of Monday and was 20% contained, per NBC Los Angeles. KABC reports the York Fire had reached 120 square miles as of Monday night, and it was still "growing rapidly," fire officials said, per CNN. No evacuation orders have been issued. But officials have described intense winds leading to "fire whirls," also known as fire tornadoes, which are unpredictable and can change direction on a dime. Nearly 400 people are assigned to fight the blaze, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It notes "a thick haze of smoke over the Las Vegas Valley" has prompted flight delays and dangerous air quality levels. (More wildfires stories.)

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