The Fort McMurray wildfire continues to rage in Canada’s Alberta province, having consumed about 25,000 acres and destroyed an estimated 1,600 structures.

Imagery of the blaze, obtained from cameras and sensors on Earth and in space, reveal the tremendous scale of this disaster and its intensity.

In the surreal dash-cam video at the top of this post, you get a sense for how fast the fire, fanned by gusty winds, was spreading Tuesday.

From the vantage point of space at the same time, it looked as if a bomb exploded. Satellite imagery from NASA reveals the likeness of a mushroom cloud over the torched region.


View of Fort McMurray wildfire from space on Tuesday. ( NASA )

In reality, the billowing clouds are known as pyrocumulus and pyrocumulonimbus (abbreviation: pyrocb), which explosively develop in violent wildfires. They were strikingly apparent in satellite imagery Wednesday.

Pyrocumulus form in a fashion similar to ordinary cumulus clouds. The fire-heated air rapidly ascends before cooling and condensing into clouds at high altitudes. The clouds are gray rather than white because of the ash and smoke they ingest. Pyrocumulonimbus clouds form when the updrafts are particularly intense, and sometimes produce lightning.

On Wednesday, lightning was detected in the vicinity of Fort McMurray and shown on weather radar:

A separate satellite image, which displays night lights and other bright material sensed from space, shows the sprawling coverage of the blaze — which dwarfs the footprint of Fort McMurray’s city lights:

The fire has been fueled by record-breaking warmth, with temperatures of 85 to 90 degrees widespread in the region, more than 30 degrees above normal.

The blaze forced the largest wildfire evacuation in the country’s history this week when all of Fort McMurray’s 80,000 residents were asked to leave.

More startling imagery of this devastating wildfire is provided below:

From the ground

From the air