In satellite images, the fire clouds look like giant stalks of cauliflower with large, white puffs rising over darker smokestacks. Fire clouds are similar to regular cumulus clouds. Heat causes an air mass to rise into the atmosphere, where it collides with cooler air and the water vapor condenses into a cloud. However, the heat that creates regular cumulus clouds comes from the sun's reflected heat radiating from the Earth's surface, while the heat that creates fire clouds comes from open flames.
Fire clouds can be dangerous, as they can send smoke and pollutants into the upper atmosphere. The wind can pick up the pollutants and spread them across a wide area. The fire cloud over the Beaver Complex fire spouted a huge puff of smoke into the atmosphere, and winds pushed the smoke northeast over Oregon and sent it drifting toward Idaho and Montana.
In some cases, fire clouds can trigger thunderstorms that help put out wildfires. This happens when the pyrocumulus clouds develop into pyrocumulonimbus clouds. Cumulonimbus clouds are the source of all thunderstorms, and if fire clouds make the transformation, they can start huge downpours.