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“Fire Tornado” Damages in California

an aerial view of a neighborhood in the mountains

Nothing was typical about the way the Carr Fire tore into the city of Redding, California on July 27. Photos released by the city late last week show an aerial perspective of the devastation caused by a “fire tornado” when it launched its deadly assault on the community of about 100,000.

The Big Picture

This wildfire transformed from an intense blaze to something even the most senior firefighters had never seen before. A towering, spinning inferno sped downhill, tore across small, outlying subdivisions and towns, and torched parts of the city. Photos show entire homes charred down to the foundation, next to homes that survived as if untouched by the flames.

The Details

The Carr Fire‘s behavior on July 27 has stunned meteorologists who specialize in fire weather. It’s long been known that wildfires create their own weather. They pull in air from surrounding areas, lofting it to great heights, occasionally even spawning thunderstorms from the towering smoke plumes.

  • However, the Carr Fire was different. It occurred on an extreme day when conditions for unusual wildfire behavior were at a peak — with record dry vegetation, record hot temperatures and fickle winds. In the late afternoon, with temperatures north of 100°F, the fire formed a vortex.

On video, it looked like a glowing, orange tornado, that post-storm damage surveys have shown contained winds of at least 143 miles per hour — equivalent to an EF-3 tornado. The images, taken by authorized drone operators, show what happens when you combine the capriciousness of a wildfire with the fickle fate dolled out by a fire tornado.