A massive cloud of smoke and fire can be seen spinning like a tornado in the video.
Redding firefighter Jeremy Stoke, who cut short his vacation to volunteer to battle the blaze, was killed in the tornado as he was driving to evacuate residents July 26.
Shortly before his death the rapidly moving fire “transitioned from a fuel-driven fire to a wind-driven fire, resulting in a combination of increased fire behavior and extraordinary fire wind conditions,” said a report released earlier this week by California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The base of the “fire tornado” was 1,000 feet wide — larger than three football fields — and was fueled by winds gusting to 165 mph, according to the Cal Fire report. It exploded 7.5 miles into the air, ripping roofs off homes and toppling power lines.
Investigators believe the temperature in the firestorm reached 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of molten lava in an erupting volcano.
“Regardless of the primary factors that caused the fire tornado, the resultant fire behavior was unpredictable and unusual,” Cal Fire said in the report. “It surprised many highly experienced firefighters. The rotating vertical plume appeared and behaved in many aspects like a [conventional] EF-3 scale tornado.” An EF-3 tornado is stronger than most conventional wind tornadoes in the state’s history.
The temperature in Redding that day was a record 113 degrees.
“There have been several documented instances of a ‘fire whirl’ in California,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox told CBS San Francisco. “But this is the largest documented fire-generated tornado in California history.”
Stoke’s stepfather, Gary Parmely, told The Associated Press that the phenomenon that killed Stoke was “something out of this world, a perfect storm. It was incompatible with life, and he happened to drive into it.”
Private bulldozer operator Don Smith, 81, was also killed that day as he tried to improve a fire line protecting a home.
Six other people have also died in the Carr Fire.
The Cal Fire report warned that the massively destructive phenomenon will likely become more common due to a “changing climate, overly dense and dry fuels, changing weather patterns and the continued growth of communities into fire prone landscapes.”
The still-burning Carr Fire, which has consumed more than 227,000 acres, is 81 percent contained as of Saturday. The Mendocino Complex Fire Complex, the largest ever in California history, has so far consumed 335,000 acres. It’s 76 percent contained.
Four of California’s largest fires have occurred in the past six years, an accelerating pace that experts link to climate change, NPR reported.