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Does the Desert Burn?

Does the Desert Burn?

A wildfire that started in a California national park has burned tens of thousands of acres – and is so intense that it's spewing dangerous spinning whirlwinds of fire.

Officials said that the York Fire ignited in Mojave National Preserve near the end of last month, burning 30,000 acres by Sunday. Dry vegetation and high winds created "extremely challenging conditions," and in some areas, there were 20-foot flames. By the end of that same day, it spread to 70,000 acres and spread into Nevada.

As National Park Service officials and first responders rushed to try and contain the fire, the park's Facebook page said that some witnesses noticed "fire whirls" on the north side of the flames.

"While these can be fascinating to observe they are a very dangerous natural phenomena that can occur during wildfires," the service warned. "A fire whirl is a vortex of flames and smoke that forms when intense heat and turbulent winds combine, creating a spinning column of fire."

The service said that the whirls are similar to dust devils, but form from a wildfire's heat and energy. They can get up to "several hundred feet in height, and their rotational speed can vary widely," officials said.

"This weather is extremely dangerous for firefighters battling the fires. They have the potential to spread embers over long distances and can start new fires ahead of the main forefront," the Preserve's Facebook post says. "Additional fire whirls can change direction suddenly, making them unpredictable and difficult to anticipate."