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Raging Yosemite wildfire causes giant branches to rain down on airplanes

Wildfire at Yosemite National Park
The Washburn Fire began last week, and is threatening Yosemite's Mariposa Grove (Image credit: Getty)

The Washburn Fire currently raging in Yosemite National Park is creating an unusual updraft capable of lifting debris and raining it down on tanker planes tackling the blaze. 

The wildfire began last week, and started near the park's Mariposa Grove – home to some of the world's oldest trees. Firefighters are hard at work trying to protect the grove's giant sequoias, some of which are believed to be over 2,000 years old, and tanker planes have been brought in to douse the flames with water.

As the San Francisco Chronicle (opens in new tab) reports, several pilots tackling the blaze have reported debris falling from the sky, including very large branches.

“Hey, just want to let you know a branch went right over the top of us, pretty good size, probably 50 feet above us coming down and fell right in between Tanker 103 and myself,” one pilot said in a radio communication shared on Twitter.

After receiving a response, the pilot added: "So if we keep seeing that we might have to knock it off. I don’t want to take a chance on busting a window in an airplane or hurting an aircraft for this." You can listen to the recorded communication in the tweet below:

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The branches and other debris are being lifted by convection, which is the movement of the air caused by heat. As the air around the fire is heated, it rises and cooler air rushes in to replace it. This is happening so fast that material from the ground is being lifted up into the sky.

However, despite the tremendous damage caused by the ongoing blaze, Yosemite forest ecologist and firefighter Garrett Dickman has said he believes the sequoias will survive.

"The grove itself right now seems to be in pretty good shape," Dickman told SFGATE (opens in new tab). "I walked through all the parts that burned and did not see any mortality. [...] Some of the trees had some burn on them, but the level of burn was well within their ability to to handle it."

Cat Ellis
Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).