Officials said the 70,000-acre wildfire that erupted in California's Mojave National Preserve and crossed into Nevada was 0% controlled Sunday night due to deadly "fire whirls" caused by extreme temperatures and stormy winds.
The Mojave Desert, home to tortoises, foxes, badgers, bobcats, bighorn sheep, and Joshua trees, is a large, sensitive, and critical ecosystem that is prone to wildfires. Firefighters labored Sunday to suppress the flames.
Southern California's desert grasses exploded this year after heavy rainfall. The grasses fed on nitrogen-laden Los Angeles smog, making Joshua tree woodlands prone to huge brush fires.
“Miles upon miles of invasive grasses are like flash paper in the Mojave Desert understory,” Wildlands Conservancy executive director Frazier Haney told The Times on Sunday.
Haney said a wildfire like this may wipe away a stunning array of species developed by nature over tens of thousands of years in minutes.
The 2020 Dome fire burned 1.3 million plants on more than 40,000 acres of California desert, including a substantial chunk of Mojave National Preserve.
"They have the potential to spread embers over long distances and can start new fires ahead of the main fire front," federal officials stated of the wildfire's fire whirls. Fire whirls can change direction unexpectedly, making them hard to forecast."
Showers and thunderstorms in the fire region were also producing "sudden, erratic winds," according to Las Vegas National Weather Service meteorologist Ashley Nickerson. "That makes fire containment difficult."
Nickerson warned the following two days would be tough as winds gusted 20 to 30 mph and moisture rose, bringing the threat of further thunderstorms.
As of 7 p.m. Sunday, officials had no plans to evacuate residential communities like Nipton and Searchlight, despite the fire's magnitude and lack of control.
"The fire... remains some distance from these areas," Clark County tweeted, "and [Clark County Fire Department] continues to coordinate response and resources with partner agencies."
Stephanie Bishop, a National Park Service public information officer and York fire spokesman, said the fire originated in government grounds in Mojave National Preserve near Caruthers Canyon on Friday. Unknown causes of the fire