143 MPH Fire Tornado Ripped Through Redding During Carr Fire
KPIX CBS SF Bay Area
REDDING (CBS SF) — It’s the kind of finding one would suspect from National Weather Service investigators along Tornado Alley in the wake of a deadly storm front.
But it wasn’t. It was the measurement of the wind generated during the height of the firestorm that ripped through Redding last week, killing six people and damaging hundreds of homes.
On Thursday, NWS researcher combed through the wreckage left behind and determined a fire whirl — commonly known as a fire tornado — roared through the area between 7:30 p.m and 8 p.m. on July 26th.
It was packing 143 mph winds, turning heavy-duty high tension power line towers into twisted pieces of metal, uprooting trees and ripping the bark off other trees.
The NWS & @CAL_FIRE Serious Accident Review Team (SART) are conducting a storm damage survey regarding the large fire whirl that occurred Thursday evening in Redding. Preliminary indicators placed max wind speeds achieved by the fire whirl in excess of 143 mph. #cawx #CarrFire pic.twitter.com/3iRX90lhLJ
— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) August 2, 2018
During his assessment of the battle against the Carr Fire, Gov. Jerry Brown cited the ferocity of the rarely seen phenomena.
“These winds events, wind storms and tornado type behavior — some of this is unprecedented,” he told reporters.
Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said the fiery vortexes ranging in size up to 150 feet presented firefighters with a difficult challenge on the night of July 26th.
“It’s just a heck of a fight,” he said. “They (the firefighters) are doing what they can do and they get pushed out in a lot of cases. We’re fighting the fight right now.”
He said the fire behavior was so erratic there were tornados within the fire “tossing around equipment, blowing out windows of Cal Fire pickups.”
#CarrFire (#Redding) – Fire moving into the River Ridge area after jumping the Sacramento River, FF's are being pulled out from that area, major fire activity – from the feed: "it's just a fire tornado in there."
— CA Fire Scanner (@CAFireScanner) July 27, 2018
The fire whirls may occur when intense rising heat and turbulent wind conditions combine to form whirling eddies of air. These eddies can contract into a tornado-like vortex that sucks in burning debris and combustible gases.
“This giant rotating cylinder on top of the fire, composed of smoke, pulls burning embers and smoldering debris thousands of feet into the atmosphere,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles, told the San Jose Mercury News. ““It allows fire to jump over barriers..It causes it (the fire) to do crazy, very unpredictable things.”
Professor Craig Clements, Director of the Fire Weather Research Lab at San Jose State University, told KPIX 5 that a fire as intense as the Carr Fire will create its own weather patterns.
“If a fire is intense enough it can create its own winds,” he said. “They are winds that occur just around the fire.”
Among those winds are fire whirls.
“It’s a rotating column of combustion gases so its kind of like a tornado,” he said. “It’s a vortex that can form at the fire front. It can take the fire to unburned fuel really rapidly.”