Professional photographer Greg Vitalich took this photo of the massive imposing smoke generated by the Thomas Fire from his back deck in Newbury Park on Dec. 11, 2017, at 11:45 a.m.
© Greg Vitalich
Professional photographer Greg Vitalich took this photo of the massive imposing smoke generated by the Thomas Fire from his back deck in Newbury Park on Dec. 11, 2017, at 11:45 a.m.
Many were captivated early Sunday afternoon when a massive pyrocumulus cloud, or fire cloud, formed over the Santa Ynez Mountains in Southern California.

The Thomas Fire in Ventura County generated the foreboding mushroom cloud of smoke resembling what you might see above an erupting volcano.

Professional photographer Greg Vitalich of Newbury Park was one of those who caught sight of the otherworldly view of smoke.

"I was leaving the house to go to lunch and I was stopped in my tracks at the sight of that omonious cloud," Vitalich says. "I've grown used to seeing the smoke and the fire from my house in recent days. This was a lot different from what I've seen."


The Thomas Fire looking toward Santa Barbara from Sisar Peak on Dec. 10, 2017.
© Ventura County Sheriff / Office Of Emergency Services
The Thomas Fire looking toward Santa Barbara from Sisar Peak on Dec. 10, 2017.
Eric Boldt, a forecaster with the National Weather Service office in Oxnard, was tracking the fire cloud on Sunday and says it originated in the San Ynez Mountains of western Ventura County in the Los Padres National Forest on the border of Santa Barbara. Using satellite imagery, he measured it at 30,000 feet tall.

"It's basically like a thunderstorm," Boldt explains. "When we see these clouds billowing so tall, it's the same mechanisms that are happening with a thunderstorm. You're causing updrafts and air that's pushing the smoke higher. It creates its own wind. If it starts to spin, that's where you can get more wind and fast-moving progression of the fire. It can become a dangerous situation for firefighters."

The huge Pyrocumulus cloud of smoke rose to the north of downtown Ventura as seen Sunday afternoon from the Ventura Pier as the Thomas Fire threatens Carpenteria and Montecito

The huge Pyrocumulus cloud of smoke rose to the north of downtown Ventura as seen Sunday afternoon from the Ventura Pier as the Thomas Fire threatens Carpenteria and Montecito
Boldt believes the wind generated by the cloud impacted the spread of the Thomas Wildfire on Sunday as Calfire went from reporting the blaze at 15 percent contained to 10 percent.

Growing by more than 50,000 acres to 230,000 acres on Sunday, the Thomas Fire is now recognized as the fifth-largest fire in modern California history.