▶ Watch Video: York Fire in Mojave National Preserve grows to 70,000 acres burned, no containment

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. 

Crane Valley Hotshots set a back fire as the York Fire burns in the Mojave National Preserve on July 30, 2023. 

DAVID SWANSON/AFP via Getty Images

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.” 

 A fire whirl kicks up as the dixie fire burns through the area on August 16, 2021 near Janesville, California. 

/ Getty Images

As of Tuesday morning, the York Fire had swept over 80,400 acres and is at 23% containment, according to official wildfire data. While the fire has since spread even farther to southern Utah, officials said “less fire activity than in the previous days” was observed. 

The origins of the fire remain under investigation. Officials say it started on private land within the Mojave National Preserve. 

“Limited visibility due to thick smoke is a challenge the firefighters are facing,” they said. “With visibility up to a mile or less in some areas it has a significant implication and causes hazardous conditions, hindering firefighting operations as it affects aerial support, ground crews’ movement, and communications between firefighting units.”