This week, an F-15C fighter jet with Oregon Air National Guard captured several stunning images of smoke rising from Northern California fires and forming what are called fire clouds, or scientifically speaking, pyrocumulus clouds. They form the same way regular cumulus clouds do: warm air rises and condenses as it collides with cool air above.
Only in the case of fire clouds, the warm air is not clean air heated by the sun, but dirty, smoky air -- full of ash and other particulates -- heated by open flames.
These particular fire clouds were spouted by the Beaver Complex fire, just south of the Oregon border. NASA's Earth Observatory -- which released the impressive cloud photos on its website -- says the fire clouds were pushed into Oregon and west across Idaho and Montano by strong winds.
Under certain weather conditions, pyrocumulus clouds can turn into pyrocumulonimbus clouds and become thunderstorms. Occasionally, these storms can help extinguish the very fires that created them.
Because pyrocumulus clouds can send smoke, ash and pollution high into the atmosphere where wind and weather can scatter them over large areas, scientists keep a close watch on them.
Still, its unusual for NASA satellites to capture such mature fire clouds with its satellites while fighter jets get a closer glimpse of things below.