Pyrocumulus over Possum Kingdom Lake

Pyrocumulus over Possum Kingdom Lake (MSNBC photo, August 2011)

As I drove back to the ranchito yesterday afternoon from Abilene, moving with light traffic on Interstate 20 near Eastland, Texas, I looked northeast and saw towering pyrocumulus clouds. Approximately forty to fifty miles away from where I drove on the highway, I pinpointed the fires at Palo Pinto, Texas, or Possum Kingdom Lake. My ranchito lay far away from the inferno, so my anxiety lessened and I began to think more intently about the precise location. The smoke rose high in the sky, becoming pyrocumulus, rolling and billowing upwards.  It had started at about 1:30 p.m.

When I arrived at the house, I turned on the television and Dallas-Fort Worth stations reported the fires near Possum Kingdom Lake, the southeastern side of the huge lake that dams the Brazos River, the largest river in Texas. In April, fires had erupted about the lake, destroying homes and thousands of acres of trees and grass with attendant wildlife. Once again, Possum Kingdom habitat ignites, the residents flee not having time to salvage photos or documents.

I ruminate that our region suffers a drought, cow tanks dry, underbrush decadent and my primary source of water, the Barton Creek Cooperative, restricts water use with heavy penalties for violators.  In the Possum Kingdom fire zone, summer camps for teenagers and children abound, primary homes and secondary homes stand close to trees that are pruned carefully, the underbrush removed as a fire hazard.  Yet, so, when the spark falls on the dead, crackly grass and brush, natural forces beyond man’s control take precedence and airships with their whap-whap-whap of whirling blades pour water onto flames that send smoke and ashes high into the sky, creating pyrocumulus in the blue skies of Texas.  I think of a line from Full Metal Jacket:  Who is in command here?

The origin of the fire is unknown and as of this morning, August 31, the fire is not contained.

For a morning news report, August 31, 2011, see “Wildfires burning homes in Texas, Oklahoma,” from MSNBC.


Notes, corrections and additions:

The quote from the movie, “Who’s in command here?” originally read Apocalypse Now.  The proper citation is from the movie, Full Metal Jacket.

The photograph from MSNBC shows smoke and ash close to the ground and none of the “clouds” are pyrocumulus.  I saw the pyrocumulus while on the interstate highway and I failed to use my iPhone to photograph the phenomenon. 


Filed under Life Out of Balance, Weather, Wildfire

23 responses to “Pyrocumulus over Possum Kingdom Lake

  1. When you wrote “huge lake that dams the Brazos River, the largest river in Texas,” a memory was triggered for me – because I was the gov’t lackey that ran the map wheels over topo maps of TX to determine first qualifications for Wild and Scenic River Survey in 1979. And I remember saying, ‘Wow, is this river long.’

    Besides that, what a heart-rending thing to see. More fires?

    It’s important to document it.

  2. Pyrocumulus – what an interesting word. I’d never heard it before. A sad word, though. Sorry to hear your region is being threatened by these fires once again.

  3. I’m with Rebecca and have never heard the word pyrocumulus. Thank you. I like learning new words. I, too, am very sorry to hear you are enduring yet another fire. I hope they get control of it soon. I hear there has been some rain in Taos recently…perhaps some will find its way to Possum Kingdom Lake.

  4. Pingback: Sudden 7500 Acre Wildfire In Palo Pinto County Texas Turns Homes to Ash | Alternative News Report

  5. Cowboy

    Howdy Jack –
    With the extreme weather conditions all over, I think many are asking the question of who’s in command. Not only are lives lost in the storms, but livestock is suffering through the drought. The fires only make things worse.
    If only we could take some of the east coast water and drop it over Texas and Oklahoma, but of course that’s wishful hoping.
    Hopefully winter will bring rain.
    Take care……….

  6. Sure sorry to read of more fires in your area! You have had enough. We’ve had a lot of small fires here now too, but nothing like the ones you’ve had.

    • Montucky: I read that you have had fires and that there is a natural? burning of underbrush in the forests. A lot of our fires here are the result of crowded residences and everybody wanting to have trees and there are no natural burns from nature, such as lightening strikes. We are not used to all these fires, forests as well as prairie. Thank you for your sympathy.

  7. I heard on the news tonight that the PK fire is about 50% contained. I certainly hope so. We’ve had a couple of grass fires this past week, and I’m nervous as can be. Predictions are for the front to come in next week with fairly stiff winds – not good, without rain to precede them. When I got up this morning and saw tropical storm Lee heading east, I nearly cried.

    I first saw pyrocumulus on the beach at Matagorda. They were doing controlled burns in the wildlife refuges just to the north. It was amazing to see the clouds begin to billow up above the smoke.

    And how I laughed at your Pecos Bill reference! The Southwest’s answer to the Paul Bunyan I grew up with!

    • Shoreacres: You were the one that first gave me the word, “pyrocumulus,” back in April. Several people have now remarked about the word. I have cooler weather this morning — 69 degrees.

  8. Kittie Howard

    What a relief, that you and Brenda are out of harm’s way. I believe you mentioned this lake in a post last year. I didn’t think it was really close to you but from the way the fire moved, we were a bit nervous here.

    • Kittie: Yes, I did mention the fire back in April. It started again in about the same spot. Thanks for your concern. Vegetation is dry here except for my green far field that I have let go for a few years.

  9. Jack – if you’re around, there’s a huge fire near Bastrop. I picked it up from the Wundermap while looking at moisture flow from Lee. This radar image has to be the radar signature of pyrocumulus.

  10. The terrible irony of your region suffering from intolerable drought while ours continues to drown is nearly unbearable from a humanity point of view.

    The damage in the interior northeast is catastrophic as is yours for a completely different reason.

    I’m hoping, perhaps beyond hope, that this is a blip on the radar screen rather than the results of climate change.

    I’m now upright, can observe, but I’m not going too far.

    • I hope it just is a blip and things settle down, but, like you, I am not going too far in hoping for a return to “normal.” Damage from two entirely different sources — I keep thinking of those huge storms we have photographed on other planets that engulf every darn thing and then settle down after a decade. Predictions are pretty grim about the hurricane season this year.

  11. Jack, I’ve been trying pinpoint where Mingus is in relation to the fires—it looks like you are about 150 miles north to northwest? Can you verify? What is the geographical area where the drought extends? I know you can see the smoke from major fires for hundreds of miles but you may be closer than I know. The pictures are horrible and I hardly know what to say. Similar patterns happened here a few months ago as fires raged while Midwest flooded…I am so sorry, for all creatures, affected…please stay safe and know that you’re in our thoughts.

  12. We are finished with the fires here in NM, now we are worried with the run off of the rains in these burnt areas. I learned that after soils and vegetation has been charred, rainfall that is normally absorbed will run off extremely quickly. Severely burned soils act like a water repelleta on pavement. That is what happened when a Dixon’s Apple Orchard, already devastated by this summer’s Las Conchas fire, suffered a destructive flash flooding.

    • Evangeline, same thing happened here in AZ. Lots of damage from monsoon rains. Mountain roads are closed, the rains have destroyed them and there is much repair work to be done. The Huachucas look like a desolate wasteland from afar, when this is the time of year they should be at their most vibrant. Everyone’s house is surrounded by sandbags. It’s heartbreaking…and now my friends in NY state have been evacuated from effects of Hurricane Lee…what a horrible year this has been.

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