Cove Fire: Pyrocumulus Formation

Modoc July Complex in Pictures

Thunderstorms are a welcome relief when rain is needed for crops, but when the lightning comes without the rain, wildfires often become the result. Such is the case with the Modoc July Complex fire. Lightning hit the ground on July 24th and the fire was born. The Steele and Cove fires were the most threatening in Modoc July Complex. The Cove Fire became plume-dominated which by each evening had generated cloud-to-cloud lightning and increased winds as a result of the intense heat buildup and atmospheric conditions. Extreme fire behavior in the form of fire whirls and spotting caused the fire to further advance southwest towards a pre-established dozer line near County Roads 90 and 87. High temperatures, low relative humidity, and forecasted west winds also allowed the fire to grow to more than 83 thousand acres.

The plume domination challenged firefighters. The formation of pyrocumulus clouds created its own weather, including lightning, precipitation and high winds. And each evening around 5pm crews waited and watched, anticipating the pyrocumulus clouds to collapse, creating even more wind (imagine holding a hair dryer pointed at the floor) that fanned flames.

Below are a series of photographs taken by Shawn Boyd inside the fire lines of the Cove Fire. Much of the devastation was described by fire chiefs as “a nuclear winter;” you’ll see why.

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Time-lapse of Pyrocumulus Formation


Shawn Boyd

Shawn Boyd joined Cal OES as a public information officer in 2014 after a 20-year career in television news as a reporter, anchor and executive producer. He's a Cal State Sacramento alum and former US Navy yeoman and Air Force brat.

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