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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 3 hours ago - World

U.S. releases report finding Saudi prince approved Khashoggi operation

Photo: Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has released an unclassified report assessing that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) approved the operation to "capture or kill" Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Driving the news: The White House also announced sanctions on entities implicated in the murder, though not on MBS directly. Officials also announced a new "Khashoggi ban" under which individuals accused of harassing journalists or dissidents outside their borders can be barred from entering the U.S.

About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says

Joe Biden speaks during an event commemorating the 50 million COVID-19 vaccine shots. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Nearly 1 in 5 adults and nearly half of Americans 65 and older have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt said on Friday.

The big picture: The Biden administration has previously said it has secured enough doses to vaccinate most of the American population by the end of July.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Most COVID-19 survivors can weather risk of reinfection, study says — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
  2. Vaccine: Employers mull COVID vaccine requirements — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategyPfizer begins study on 3rd vaccine dose as booster shot against new strains.
  3. Economy: What's really going on with the labor market.
  4. Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.