Deadly California blaze spawned destructive fire tornado

Varney became the first of four California firefighters to die this year. The highest threat areas are said to be near the Carr Fire and the Mendocino Complex Fire.

The wildfire has grown to 175 square miles (280 square kilometers) and is a few miles from connecting with a second blaze that has grown to 64 square miles (105 square kilometers).

"Wawona, Mariposa Grove, Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, Crane Flat, Big Oak Flat, and Hetch Hetchy are closed due to the Ferguson Fire", the National Park Service said in a statement on its website.

The National Weather Service issued warnings for critical fire weather conditions into Saturday, saying a series of dry low-pressure systems passing through the region would bring afternoon wind gusts.

Dykema says the whirl started when hot air from the exceptionally hot fire rose and twisted tightly, creating a powerful tornado of flames and wind.

Much of the destruction was caused by a tornado of flames that the National Weather Service said reached 143 miles per hour (230 kph) on July 26.

Carol Smith and her family walked into their hillside neighborhood Thursday to find her home reduced to mangled metal and piles of bricks after a massive Northern California wildfire leveled more than 1,000 homes.

The dual fires have charred an area of the forested, rural area five times the size of San Francisco and were only 27 percent contained.

Firefighting costs have more than tripled from $242 million in the 2013 fiscal year to $773 million in the 2018 fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CalFire.

As these fires grow in frequency and severity, the state's cost to fight them is also increasing - dramatically.

Dykema said wildfires typically create whirls, but rarely of the strength of the one recorded July 26.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which uses acres to describe fire size, said the blaze had blackened almost 206 square miles.

Stoked by drought-parched vegetation and triple-digit temperatures, the Carr Fire has killed six people, destroyed 1,567 homes and other structures and blackened 131,896 acres.

The 33-year-old was killed July 29 by a falling tree while battling a wildfire that has prompted the closure and evacuation of nearby Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Valley residents must leave the valley by noon Friday, National Park Service officials said.

Braden Varney, 36, was working alone overnight July 14 fighting the wildfire while his assistant went to get a new hydraulic hose. The report called for better "risk assessment" among firefighters.

  • Rogelio Becker