Massive Creek Fire In California Creates "Fire Tornadoes"

The Creek Fire created its own weather. Parts of Huntington Lake were hit by winds of 100 mph uprooting huge trees and destroying cabins. Physicist Neil Lareau describes the event.

Watch the video report and interview here:

For those affected the Creek Fire in California, the last two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster. As of this writing, the Creek Fire has consumed 248,256 acres, destroyed 780 structures and has been burning for 13 days. Hundreds of people had to be rescued from the flames by Chinook helicopters.

Sparked on Friday Sept 4, 2020 near Shaver Lake, the fire raced six miles up a canyon and destroyed much of the small town of Big Creek within fourteen hours. The fire kept going north and by sundown on its first day it had traveled over 20 miles to Mammoth Pools Reservoir trapping over 200 Labor Day campers. It kept expanding, east to Huntington Lake, south down to Pine Ridge, west to Auberry, and north to the borders of Yosemite. Hundreds, perhaps thousands had to evacuate by noon on Sept 5.

We searched for news about our family's cabin at Huntington Lake. But, the lack of personnel on the fire meant that there was little time or personnel to report what was happening. California was on fire from Mexico all the way to Oregon. Less than 1,500 firefighters were available to battle the Camp Fire. Panicked calls from friends listening to police scanners added to our despair. Then came the first photo, our daughter's best friend's cabin: nothing but a metal roof, ash, and the chimney.

A second photo arrived a day later. It showed our closest neighbor's cabin: nothing but a twisted metal roof, ashes, and the chimney. How could ours still be standing? A profound grief descended upon me. It wasn't just the cabin, it was the forest and the mountains where I grew up. It wasn't just the apparent loss of our cabin, but the loss of an entire environment of trees, animals, birds and flowers. Our emotions seemed to encompass much more than even a death in the family. A loved one's passing is sad, but it doesn't usually create anxiety about the next generation. I was unable to shake a deep, species-level anxiety

But one thing looked unusual about the photo of our neighbor's house. There were trees laying on top of the rubble. Those trees did not appear to be burned. A neighbor noticed the same thing. We both thought of the "fire tornado" that had been filmed near Redding in the Carr Fire in 2018. Maybe the same thing had happened here. My friend Doug told me, "don't give up hope."

As soon as the road seemed safe, I drove up to Huntington Lake. As a media person I was able to pass the road blocks. For 60 miles from below Pine Ridge at about 4,500 feet elevation, all the way to Huntington Lake at 7,000 feet elevation, fires had destroyed houses and trees . The fire was in patches. Some mountainsides were completely burned up. Others still stood. Smoke and flames smoldered everywhere.

Once at Huntington we passed the meadow next our cabins. We were shocked. Ninety percent of the trees now lay flat. Most of them pointed south. Previously, you couldn't see 20 yards off the road in this spot. Now, you could now see a quarter mile. It was complete devastation. When we pulled up our road, a huge tree, easily 4-5 feet in diameter at the base lay flat. It had been pulled out by its roots with no sign of fire.

The Creek Fire created its own weather. Clearly, high winds produced by the fire had done a lot of damage.

When I walked up to our cabin, it was surrounded on all sides by downed trees, all ripped out by their roots. But the cabin, by some miracle, was still standing. One tree had smashed a deck, several smaller trees lay across the roof. But the big 3 to 5 foot in diameter trees around us had all fallen south or had narrowly missed the cabin.

Cal Fire personnel on site confirmed that we'd been hit by a "fire tornado". As soon as I returned to the land of cell reception I searched for experts on weather created by fires. Everyone suggested speaking to Neil Lareau. Here, in this posting is an edited version of our Zoom interview and footage from the Creek Fire.