Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on September 1, 2020.


Recent headscratchers from the world of fire and life safety


The last thing wildland firefighters might be thinking as they battle a raging wildfire is whether they’ll get pelted on the head by ice or swept away by a twister. But two wildfires in California this summer triggered what experts say are rare occurrences of extreme weather, including hail and tornadoes.

The first, the Hog Fire, created thunderstorms that sent dime-sized hail falling from the sky in northern California in July. “As if this fire couldn’t get any weirder! A smoke column from the #Hogfire collided with a storm cell evolving into a hail storm (w/lightning) that dropped dime-sized hail RIGHT on the fire!” freelance news photographer Josh Edelson tweeted on July 22. “The temp dropped 40 degrees in like 10 min.” Then, in August, northern California’s Loyalton Fire triggered what several news agencies reported as “fire tornadoes,” which complicated response and evacuation procedures. “It’s not like a typical tornado where it happens, everything clears out and you safely go and investigate,” a meteorologist told the New York Times. “In this case, there’s a massive wildfire burning in the same location, so the logistics are a lot more complicated.”

According to The Weather Channel, it’s not uncommon for wildfires to generate clouds that then generate thunderstorms—but hail and tornadoes are uncommon.


In June, firefighters in Pennsylvania had to use an industrial saw to cut a sewer gate open and free a man who claimed to have been trapped for days.

According to local news reports, the man told authorities he entered the sewer somewhere in Scranton and ended up being rescued over three miles away, in the town of Taylor. It was unclear why he entered the sewer in the first place, but that’s not even the strangest part of this story. That would be the fact that this is the second time in six months that a man needed to be rescued from Scranton area sewers; in December, firefighters pulled a man out of the sewer after he reportedly fell into a nearby river and made his way to the sewer.

NFPA Journal wasn’t the only one to connect the two incidents. “Wonder if it’s the same dude they pulled out of the sewer in Scranton over the winter?” one person pondered online, responding to a Taylor Fire Department Facebook post about the most recent incident. There must be something in the wastewater in Scranton. Either that, or a scary clown is luring them in.


It’s a bird. It’s a plane. Wait—is that a giant swan on the loose in the East River?

In July, two people in New York City apparently thought it was a good idea to seek relief from the summer heat by lounging in the river on a giant inflatable pool toy in the shape of a white swan. When the float drifted into the middle of the fast-moving river, entering an area of heavy marine traffic, FDNY had to rescue the two individuals.

The floaters were uninjured, though they were subjected to an intense roasting by their fellow New Yorkers on social media. “Only transplants would do this,” one person wrote on Instagram. “No real [New Yorker] would do something this stupid.”

It’s hardly the first time firefighters had to save someone under strange circumstances on the East River. In 2018, a 20-year-old woman declared “I’m from Boston!” before jumping into the river naked. Despite not knowing how to swim, a 29-year-old onlooker jumped in after her. Both had to be rescued.


Wildland firefighters battling a wildfire in southern California in August were met with quite the surprise as they climbed a hillside to clear the way for firetrucks—an angry bull who chased them away.

The Ventura County Fire Department posted footage of the incident on Twitter. The video shows five firefighters frantically scrambling down a trail followed closely by a hulking, horned bull. According to media reports, the bull is known locally as Ferdinand.

“Ferdinand wasn’t clowning around,” the department said in its tweet. “Luckily no one was injured and Ferdinand went about his day.” —Angelo Verzoni

ANGELO VERZONI is a staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top photograph: Getty Images