California’s Creek Fire Creates Its Own Pyrocumulonimbus Cloud

Sept. 8, 2020


This video shows the development of the Creek fire from Sep 5 through Sep 7, 2020.

This series of GIF images shows the development of the Creek fire from Sep 5 through Sep 7, 2020.Credits: NASA Worldview

On Friday September 4, 2020 at about 6:44 PM PDT the Creek Fire began in the Big Creek drainage area between Shaver Lake, Big Creek and Huntington Lake, Calif. NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite captured these images of the fire on Sep. 05 through Sep. 07, 2020. From the series of images the spread of the fire can be seen in the outward movement of the red hot spots, although the huge cloud on the 6th obscures all readings due to its size.

The huge, dense cloud created on Sep. 05 and seen in the Suomi NPP image was a pyrocumulonimbus cloud (pyroCb) and the resulting smoke plume that grew upward was spotted and confirmed on Sep. 06, 2020. A pyrocumulonimbus cloud is also called a cumulonimbus flammagenitus. The origins of the latter word are from the Latin meaning “flame” and “created from.” This perfectly describes a cloud that is caused by a natural source of heat such as a wildfire or volcano. Rising warm air from the fire can carry water vapor up into the atmosphere causing clouds. Any type of convective cloud can be created. In this case, the cumulonimbus, or thunderhead cloud, was created. Precipitation and lightning can also occur with these types of clouds creating a risk that the fire will expand due to increased wind from precipitation downdraft or by creating new fires due to lightning strikes. These are all things that fire managers must keep in mind while continuing to try to fight the fire. 

“The pyrocumulonimbus cloud created aerosol index values indicate that this is one of the largest (if not the largest) pyroCb events seen in the United States,” according to Dr. Colin Seftor, Atmospheric Scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Aerosol index showing some of the highest values recorded from a pyrocumulonimbus cloud in the U.S.

Aerosol index image showing some of the highest values recorded from a pyrocumulonimbus cloud in the U.S.Credits: NOAA/NASA/C. Seftor

This fast-moving fire is burning in both the Madera and Fresno districts of the Sierra National Forest. The fire began near the communities of Big Creek and Huntington Lake and moved swiftly prompting evacuations. Timber in the area has approximately 80-90 percent tree mortality from the bark beetle providing ample fuel for the fire’s spread.

Inciweb reports that the fire has grown to 135,523 acres as of Sep. 08, 2020. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Weather concerns continue to plague firefighters as hot and very dry conditions remained over the region through Labor Day with relative humidity very low. Forecasts expect terrain driven winds with overnight temperatures between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit and daytime temperatures between 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Suomi NPP image of Creek Fire at night

NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite image from Sep. 07, 2020 shows a night band image of the Creek Fire as well as the smoke from the fire causing lights at night to diffuse or “bloom.”Credits: NOAA/NASA/William Straka U of W-Madison/CIMSS/SSEC

NASA’s satellite instruments are often the first to detect wildfires burning in remote regions, and the locations of new fires are sent directly to land managers worldwide within hours of the satellite overpass. Together, NASA instruments detect actively burning fires, track the transport of smoke from fires, provide information for fire management, and map the extent of changes to ecosystems, based on the extent and severity of burn scars. NASA has a fleet of Earth-observing instruments, many of which contribute to our understanding of fire in the Earth system. Satellites in orbit around the poles provide observations of the entire planet several times per day, whereas satellites in a geostationary orbit provide coarse-resolution imagery of fires, smoke and clouds every five to 15 minutes. For more information visit:

Image of the Creek Fire using the VIIRS Active Fire product showing the outline of the Creek Fire.

NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP image showing active fire using the VIIRS Active Fire (VAF) product on Sep. 07, 2020. This product measures the “brightness temperature” of the fire. Using the scale at the upper right-hand corner of the image shows an extremely intense fire.Credits: NOAA/NASA/William Straka U of W-Madison/CIMSS/SSEC

NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) Worldview application provides the capability to interactively browse over 700 global, full-resolution satellite imagery layers and then download the underlying data. Many of the available imagery layers are updated within three hours of observation, essentially showing the entire Earth as it looks “right now.” Actively burning fires, detected by thermal bands, are shown as red points. Image Courtesy: NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS). Caption: Lynn Jenner with information from Inciweb, Dr. Colin Seftor, and William Straka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Last Updated: Sept. 9, 2020Editor: Lynn Jenner

47 thoughts on “California’s Creek Fire Creates Its Own Pyrocumulonimbus Cloud

  1. And now Oregon has record fires and Washington state is under a dust cloud, I read…

    all simply and entirely down to lack of forest management, apparently. Weeks of drought and record temperatures not to blame. The climate just exactly like it has always been.

    In a pig’s ear.


      ‘Although landscapes in California and much of the west are adapted to fire, global heating is driving more frequent and extreme fires. The massive flames across the region are alarming, and unprecedented, “What we’ve been experiencing, we’ve been expecting,” Field said. Climate change has given rise to fires that behave differently, burn more intensely and explosively and “are just harder for firefighters to fight”.’

      “The word ‘historic’ is a term we use often in the state of California, but these numbers bear fruit,” Gavin Newsom, the state’s governor, said on Tuesday, calling the challenge ahead “extraordinary”.

      “I have no patience for climate change deniers,” Newsom said. “That view is completely inconsistent with the reality on the ground, and the facts of our experiences. You may not believe it, but our own experiences tell a different story here in the state of California.”

      (and yes the article acknowledges lack of forest management – but I say again you can’t just blame that for these fires)

        • But, But griff is an exbert;

          used to be a Burt (or was it Burk ) …, now identifies as a griff,

          a woke w anker for whom … Green Lies Matter !

      • So if we all agree to action on climate change the fires will go out and we will never have them again.

        That is the problem Gov Newsom and Griff have …. what you believe doesn’t make a single bit of difference nor does it change what is happening or what will happen for 70 years if you believe the climate scientists.

        Hence nobody cares what you people think.

        • LdB: “So if we all agree to action on climate change the fires will go out and we will never have them again.”

          If a fire starts in a forest, and no press reporters report it, then we will never have fires again!

      • Lets set you a simple challenge Griff to come up with a plan that makes a difference in my lifetime. Like probably a majority of the population I am not a bleeding heart lefty who cares about the future of humanity, I am just trying to make the best of my lot in life for my actual family. If I am going to make a sacrifice or pay something them you need to explain the payback to me.

        • LdB September 10, 2020 at 1:31 am
          Lets set you a simple challenge Griff to come up with a plan that makes a difference in my lifetime. Like probably a majority of the population I am not a bleeding heart lefty who cares about the future of humanity, I am just trying to make the best of my lot in life for my actual family. If I am going to make a sacrifice or pay something them you need to explain the payback to me.
          just unbelievably dumb, selfish comment.
          “for my actual family” so I assume you have no children and your family is removed from the gene pool with yourselves? If not true then your children’s children have no place in your thoughts? amazing!
          “I am not a bleeding heart lefty who cares about the future of humanity” That is the most selfish thing you could have said.
          Just speechless!

          • I will say the impact of the green energy policies on the poor of this world is immense. Many of these people will die early deaths as will their children due to lack of energy that is required for even the basics of life. So those of you pressing these policies are complicit in this.

            So Ghalfrunt are you someone who cares about the future of humanity? How selfish are you?

          • Yes I am selfish like almost every human on the planet except you 10% of bleeding hearts who like to play lefty trendy. We may all like to play pretend that it’s a nice world but life isn’t nice or fair and it is and always has been survival of the fittest. Sorry I make no apology for it and my children will do just fine as they will be brought up with exactly the same views. You can be as speechless as you like I am simply telling you the facts of a harsh cruel world and in biblical words “I am not my brothers keeper”.

            I am with rbabcock you can play all nice and trendy but you will cause your own carnage in your own special way so you don’t feel the guilt. I take comfort in the knowledge that if it comes down to my children or yours in the future we know which is going to survive.

          • G halfrunt,
            “Just speechless!”
            And yet, you weren’t. This may be the single most contradictory and stupid thing you could say.

        • “Like probably a majority of the population I am not a bleeding heart lefty who cares about the future of humanity”
          Please speak in your name only. Oh, and please deny science in your name only.

      • griff, you are a cretin. It has been shown, time and time again, that there is no trend of increasing fire extent or intensity in the western US.

          • When do we get to see the plot showing the decreasing forest management ($ spent, board feet logged, etc.) over that same time span. The age old correlation vs causation sleight of hand. Nice try.

            Forests used to burn naturally in smaller chunks. Now, green practices create these tinder boxes that turn into huge conflagrations.

            When will someone with standing that lost everything as a result of these horrible forest management practices sue the governments and the NGOs responsible. This could be a great way to put NGOs out of the business of fu@#ing up things for everyone else.

            Nice pictures from Suomi-NPP. This spacecraft was launched in October 2011 for a five-year gap-filler mission with 4 new sensors and one repeat sensor. It was supposed to be a pathfinder but was turned into an operational science system when NPOESS was cancelled after wasting billions and providing essentially nothing. The bus and one instrument (OMPS) was built by Ball Aerospace in Boulder, CO. I was the Command and Data Handling (C&DH) subsystem lead — the subsystem that connects all the instruments to recorders and the data transmission system to get all the data down, in addition to the system that collects all the spacecraft bus and instrument health telemetry for transmission. The satellite and sensors will reach 9 years old in a month (4 years beyond design life).

      • More people, more ignition sources. Twice as many as in 1970.

        But CO2 doesn’t cause lightning. And warmer should be less windy, not more.

        It can’t be climate change, since CA’s climate hasn’t changed. Record heat in rural CA in 1913 and the 1930s.

        Human idiocy is to blame, both for some ignition and for not controlling fuel after wet winters, by grazing and thinning.

      • People have been warming that this would happen for many years. 100 years of fire suppression combined with the drought and bark beetle infestation has almost guaranteed that the entire state will eventually burn.

    • Oregon’s fires are far from record.

      No drought in Oregon. Lots of rain and snow made lots of fuel, not grazed off.

      Climate models assume more moisture, not less. Otherwise, no positive feedback.

    • “weeks of drought”

      Do you even know that it doesn’t rain in California for months at a time, every single year?

    • Oregon’s record high temperature now is 117 °F, set on July 27, 1939 at Umatilla. It used to be 119 °F, from Pendleton, Umatilla County seat, in 1898, but NOAA of course has disallowed that one. Our cold record is from February 10, 1933, set at Seneca, in neighboring Grant County.

      So, no, Oregon’s climate hasn’t changed. Global warming isn’t global.

      • Fact: Fully half the fifty US states’ record high temperatures were recorded prior to 1941. Easy to verify, as they haven’t yet started purging such inconvenient records.

  2. The only thing that is “unprecedented” with these fires is the increased fuel load.

    Due to tree-changers replacing small farmers and allowing trees to increase exponentially.

    Plus all that aerial fertiliser to push it along.

    We have the same problem in Aus.

      • Foreign grasses imported into the far west have langley replaced native grasses. These new grasses are annual grasses that dry out in summer, having created the next generation of seeds during the rainy season, while the native grasses, so I have read, were generally green all year. The dried grasses are great fire tinder. They are essentially always dry enough to readily ignite once summer arrives, and especially in late summer and fall when the yearly katabatic winds blow strong and hot. These grasses not only grow where the perennial grasses used to grow but, more and more, where no grasses grew because the dry season is extreme for them there.

  3. “The pyrocumulonimbus cloud”.

    Oh my God!. Does this mean it’s worserer than we thought?

    It’s a longer word than “anthropogenic”.

  4. Started in an area with 80-90% of trees dead from bark beetle. Those trees should have been logged, the interior wood is salvageable. Inexcusable forest management.
    All that dry fuel explains the biggest pyrocumulonimbus cloud ever.

    My daughter and her family just finished rebuilding their new home in the forest and meadows of eastern Evergreen Colodado. They have elk visit the meadow almost every day because they follow the little steam at the foot of their 8 acres down from the Evergreen elk preserve. They also cleared, leveled, and graveled a wide swath (Widening the gravel entry road) for use as a parking lot/playfield uphill from the house, providing a natural firebreak from the denser forest just up mountain. And the new roofing is more expensive fire resistant shingle.

  5. I have a telescope up there and the fire just missed it. I was up there twice this summer and fire was a huge concern. All the campgrounds and lakes were full of folks getting away from COVID restrictions.

    Their is (was) an active effort to get the dead trees out, but it was uneven between various USG agencies, state, and private lands.

    Personally I will miss Cressmans Tritip sandwiches – it was a gas station that had been there since 1904. I know three people who lost there homes, one who I know had the 100ft firebreak, sprinkler system, water tank, and a tile roof.

  6. Wow. That is beyond impressive.

    How much of the particulate matter will stay in the upper atmosphere and act as cloud seeding material in future storms? Any guesses? I am including areas outside the USA in my question.

    Thanks for any feedback.

  7. I have seen power station cooling towers set off thunderstorms.
    It all depends upon the lapse-rate and i instability of the atmosphere.


  8. The government is clearly using fire to manage the forests. After the Big Burn in 1910
    the forests had decades of fire suppression leading to overgrown conditions.
    It seems the pendulum swings wildly in each direction.
    It was interesting watching the air show coming out of Helena last weekend
    while visiting
    as there is a air tanker base there. LAT’s and one VLAT (DC10) racetracking on a hot
    fire 100 miles out. Very impressive watching those planes go wheels up and climb
    like a goose with 11.6K gal load. I got to watch them in action up close
    last summer, unreal performance.

    Lots different than back in the 60’s and 70’s when they flew
    WWII torpedo bombers. Those old warbirds could barely clear the fence at the
    end of the runway when loaded with a few hundred gallons of slurry.

  9. “Timber in the area has approximately 80-90 percent tree mortality from the bark beetle providing ample fuel for the fire’s spread.”
    Surely that’s enough said right there? WHY were the dead trees not clear-felled and removed? This all smacks of gross negligence, ignoring well-known and tested methods of reducing fire risks. The so-called authorities in California have brought the majority of this series of disasters on themselves.

    • “WHY were the dead trees not clear-felled and removed? ”

      The enviros have been very successful in blocking any timber action
      in Montana..#1 is Alliance for the Wild Rockies aka Michael Garrity
      and his board of former Earth First! crew. But they need and have
      a couple of federal judges to back them. They and other greens
      have made something on the order of $6 Billion in judgements over
      the past decade. At an earlier time each National Forest was run
      locally. When the logs were delivered to the mill the money was
      divied up between local government the FS and the logger. Now
      everything is run out of an Ivory Tower in Washington DC.. On
      recent sale of beetle killed timber on a
      local sale in my area when the sale was bid the timber value was worth
      a bit over $1milion. But because it was litigated and delayed the timber
      value 5-6 years later it was valued less than $50 thousand….
      But don’t get me started on the greens and their black robe tyrants…

  10. If the forests had been so poorly managed in the 1940’s the Japanese fire balloons would have been wildly successful. The WPA forest improvements of the 1930’s most likely helped. I saw many trails, trail bridges, and forest roads destroyed during the Clinton administration, that were probably built by the WPA.

  11. Ex Cali here. Left because I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy any more. The same folks who demanded we use less fossil fuels owned the biggest homes that sucked up the most power. If they would have simply consumed their “fair share”, we’d have all been happy and compfy. Simple, single example but I have dozens. Those blow dryers that Nancy likes use a lot of juice!

  12. Hmmm….California, Oregon, Washington , Portland, Seattle , all burning and all run by Democrats…is causation the same as correlation?

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