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Trees burn in the Carr Fire on July 30, 2018 west of Redding, California. Credit: Terray Sylvester/Getty Images

The fire whirl, or fire tornado, that swept into Redding, California on July 26, appears to have had winds as strong — if not stronger than — an EF-3 tornado, according to the National Weather Service.

Why it matters: The Carr Fire now ranks as one of the state's largest and most destructive wildfires on record. The extreme fire behavior exhibited on July 26 allowed the blaze to jump a natural fire break — the Sacramento River, and enter the city of Redding. So far, the fire has claimed at least 6 lives.

The National Weather Service typically conducts damage surveys after suspected torndadoes, and determines the strength of such an event based on the damage it causes. In this case, the Weather Service and CalFire are conducting a joint investigation.

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

So far, they've found evidence, including transformers that were twisted and thrown to the ground, of winds in excess of 143 miles per hour, according to a tweet from the Weather Service office in Sacramento.

“It was definitely a massive one, and that just speaks to how intense the heating was,” National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Kochasic told the Los Angeles Times. “It created such a massive whirl that it looked like a tornado … and it takes an impressive amount of heating and local wind swirling up to create something like that. It was quite a monster.”

Between the lines: While it's possible such events have occurred in the past and simply gone unmeasured, this does seem to be an extremely rare event.

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Fire weather expert Neil Lareau of the University of Nevada at Reno told Axios earlier this week that the Carr Fire's rotating smoke plume acted as a chimney, venting heat and smoke away from the blaze, and sucking in air from surrounding areas.

  • Lareau said when the rotating part of the smoke plume intensified on the evening of the 26th, the top of the smoke plume suddenly ballooned from 18,000 feet high to 38,000 feet, a feat that might not have been possible otherwise.
  • This growth sucked more air into the fire, and indicates it was burning hotter.

“Once the rotation gets going, it sort of self-intensifies in that it further lowers the pressure, which draws in more air; it further increases the rate of rotation; further increases the updraft," Lareau said.

"And unfortunately in these fire cases, it usually increases the rate of combustion as well, and intensifies the fire, so it’s kind of like a vicious cycle in that way.”
— Neil Lareau

Go deeper: How the Carr Fire morphed into a towering, deadly "fire tornado"

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

CNN fires Chris Cuomo

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN

CNN said Saturday evening it has fired one of its star anchors, Chris Cuomo, following new revelations from a legal review made by the company into Cuomo's involvement in the management of his brother's sexual harassment scandal.

Why it matters: Saturday's firing speaks to how much pressure CNN was under by employees and critics to address Cuomo's behavior.

Updated 5 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.