Fire Tornadoes Form as Wildfire Spreads; Nevada’s Largest Joshua Tree at Risk

“Las Vegas (KLAS) – As the Yarq’s fire entered Nevada, it is now creeping through Joshua Tree’s forest in California’s Mojave National Preserve.

After spreading over 40,000 acres in 2020, this is the second major fire to impact Joshua trees in the past three years.

And Nevada’s most giant Joshua tree can be in the path of the Yarq – up to 77,000 acres – as it moves to the newly nominated Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, which spans half a million acres in the desert south of Las Vegas. The burning area is now close to the city of Las Vegas boundaries.

On October 20, 2000, a report cited the “Monument Tree,” the world’s third-largest Joshua tree with a circumference of 87 inches. And the emphasis is on “largest” – it is tall, yes, but its branches spread up to 28 feet, according to the Green Wire report.

The fire is near the “We Thump” area off Route 164 – the Joshua Tree Highway.

The Nevada Division of Forestry Conservationist, Ellen O’Neil estimated the Monument Tree to be 700-800 years old.

The Yarq fire is currently 0% contained, and smoke rising in the Las Vegas Valley is causing air quality issues. It is not yet a threat to populated areas, and conditions are expected to improve today, according to the National Park Service.

An account by the Associated Press states that “dangerously hot temperatures and erratic winds” have contributed to the fire’s whirlwinds.

According to the National Park Service, the fire whirl – also known as a fire tornado at times – is a “rotating column of ascending hot air” that forms when intense heat and turbulent winds converge.

The wet winter season has produced non-native grasses fueling this year’s fires.

The burning, smoky impact in the vast desert is significant – for people.

After the fire in the preserve, The Los Angeles Times reported that Joshua trees’ survival during climate change is challenging. The fire has devastated “the heart of one of the world’s largest Joshua tree forests,” burning an estimated 1.3 million trees.

An environmental scientist told the Times that many large trees in the forest have been growing for thousands of years. The fate of two larger specimens than the iconic tree is unknown. Both are within the Mojave National Preserve.

The increased focus on Joshua trees in the area is unusual because the trees only occur in a few places, especially during fruiting and flowering events. Biologists believe that grazing by cattle may have contributed to certain conditions in the forest. Still, they also note that the recovery of the Joshua Tree forest is in an experimental phase, and time may run out.”

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