Possibly the most damaging fire tornado ever in Northern California tore through Redding during the Carr Fire, a blaze that is still raging and only 41 percent contained, weather officials said.
The Carr Fire started around 1:15 p.m. on July 23 and has killed two firefighters, consumed 141,825 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 homes as of this morning, according to Cal Fire.
Low humidity, an unstable atmosphere and winds have exacerbated the blaze and challenged the firefighters’ efforts to contain it.
The fire tornado generated on July 26 at the Carr Fire’s height achieved wind speeds exceeding 143 mph, according to National Weather Service and Cal Fire investigators.
Fire tornadoes are actually not unusual, a National Weather Service meteorologist said.
“They are fairly common because of the intense heat in fires. What makes this one uncommon is that it happened close to a populated area, a town where people could capture it with cell phones and cameras,” said Mike Kochasic of the weather service.
Kochasic described the fire tornado as “probably the most damaging fire whirl that has ever happened in northern California.” Meteorologists used the term “fire whirl” for what is commonly described as a fire tornado.
“(Fire tornadoes) are similar to dust devils, where the ground gets so hot it has to escape somehow,” Kochasic said. “The fires created such a hot surface temperature in the ground that the air had to go upward. It created its own weather system.”