The out-of-control Big Creek fire near Fresno, California, is so powerful that the National Weather Service is scrambling to explain its terrifying impact on the atmosphere.
Intense heat from the 73,278-acre inferno has produced not just smoke, but something called a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, which resembles the aftermath of an atomic explosion.
Photos of the cloud have rattled social media, including images taken at eye-level by people in passing aircraft.
The National Weather Service in Portland called the cloud “incredible,” adding: “Tops occasionally reached 8 or 9 miles high, with updrafts strong enough to push overshooting tops into the stratosphere.”
NOAA satellites shared video of the formation Sept. 6, noting the “extraordinary” cloud appeared at a time when the fire “grew explosively.” The cloud topped out at more than 45,000 feet, NOAA tweeted.
NASA refers to pyrocumulonimbus as “the fire breathing dragon of clouds,” and reports they are created when wind, rain, smoke and fire mix over thousands of burning acres. “In the process, ‘pyroCb’ storms funnel their smoke like a chimney into Earth’s stratosphere, with lingering ill effects,” NASA reports.