“Natural fire never did this,” explained Captain Dusty Gyves, a 20-year veteran with Cal Fire, California’s 130-year-old state firefighting agency. “It shouldn’t moonscape.” But now it does. It is alarming to consider that this annihilating energy arrived out of thin air, born of fire and fanned by an increasingly common combination of triple-digit heat, single-digit humidity, high fuel loads, dying trees and the battling winds that swirl daily through the mountains and valleys all over California and the greater west.
That this phenomenon may represent something new under the sun has become a subject of earnest debate among fire scientists and meteorologists, continues John Vaillant in The Guardian (with photography by Tim Hussin). The only other event that comes close is a full-blown tornado that occurred in conjunction with the notorious Canberra bushfires of 2003. With the exception of the Hamburg firestorm, ignited when Allied bombers dropped thousands of tons of incendiaries on that German city in 1943, there is no record of a “pyronado” of this magnitude occurring anywhere on earth.
Painfully clear is the fact that there is no way for firefighters to combat these all-consuming fires – with or without a tornado in their midst. Water has little effect on a high intensity wildfire. Among the structures burned near Redding was a fire station. As one Cal Fire representative said of the Carr fire’s ferocious early days: “It shifted from a firefighting effort to a life-saving effort.”
There was a time not so long ago, when a fire like this one, which forced the evacuation of 40,000 people and burned nearly 1,000 sq km across two counties, might have been a monstrous anomaly, but now, says Jonathan Cox, a Cal Fire battalion chief: “The anomalies are becoming more frequent and more deadly.”
Continue reading at The Guardian