Firefighters in the United States have managed to partially contain a massive wildfire that sparked in California’s Mojave National Preserve, sending spiralling flames across the desert landscape.
On Tuesday, the so-called York Fire had reached 23-percent containment after becoming the largest wildfire of the season in California and spreading into neighbouring Nevada.
Covering roughly 324 square kilometres (125 sq miles), the blaze has devastated thousands of hectares of desert scrub, juniper and Joshua tree woodland.
The blaze erupted on Friday near Caruthers Canyon, a remote area of the Mojave preserve. By midday on Monday, a smoky haze had descended on nearby Las Vegas and its famous Las Vegas Strip district, a neon-lit boulevard in the centre of the city.
The smoke blotted out the sun and obliterated views of the mountains surrounding the city and its suburbs. Because of low visibility, Las Vegas’s Harry Reid International Airport reported departure delays of nearly two hours.
Meanwhile, firefighters battled “fire whirls” – sometimes called “fire tornadoes” – as winds and high temperatures whipped the flames into rotating pillars.
“While these can be fascinating to observe, they are a very dangerous natural phenomena that can occur during wildfires,” the US National Park Service explained.
Significant portions of the US population have been subject to extreme heat in recent weeks. Worldwide, July was so steamy that scientists calculate it will be the hottest month ever recorded and likely the warmest to hit human civilisation.
The cause of the York Fire remains under investigation, though authorities say it started on private land within the Mojave Preserve.
Experts say plants like the blackbrush scrub, the pinyon-juniper woodlands and the famous Joshua trees in California’s San Bernardino County are at risk of taking centuries to regrow naturally, if they are ever able to recover from the fire.
More than 1,300 people were ordered to evacuate their homes on Saturday near the community of Aguanga, which is home to horse ranches and wineries. But since the fire did not grow on Monday, some were allowed back home. One firefighter has been injured in the blaze.
The chance of thunderstorms into Tuesday will heighten the risks for firefighters, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement, as the weather system could bring erratic winds to the region.