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Intense heat, 'firenadoes' fuel deadly Carr Fire in California

Intense heat, 'firenadoes' fuel deadly Carr Fire in California

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An explosive wildfire that has torn through several Northern California communities, forcing thousands to flee and burning hundreds of home houses, continues to grow out of control. (July 29) AP

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REDDING, Calif. – Firefighters battling intense heat and strong winds struggled Monday to gain control of a deadly Northern California wildfire that has killed six people and destroyed more than 800 homes.

The fire had burned through 150 square miles by late Sunday and was growing, but Cal Fire Incident Commander Brett Gouvea said it was not moving deeper into this town of 92,000.

“We’re feeling a lot more optimistic today as we are starting to gain some ground rather than be in the defensive mode all the time,” Carr Fire incident commander Bret Gouvea said. “You’re going to see repopulation in the city of Redding very soon.”

The fire was just 17 percent contained, however, and there was no end in sight to the blazing heat blamed for "firenadoes" – twisting, whirlwinds of flame and ash.

AccuWeather meteorologist Evan Duffey said temperatures have consistently exceeded 100 degrees in Redding the last several days, reaching as high as 113. The area might not see a break in the heat until the middle of next week, he added. Low humidity has added to the problem.

"The dryness and extreme heat have led to the extreme fire weather," Duffey said.

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He said a relatively wet winter literally added fuel to the fire by creating more vegetation. When summer heated up, all that vegetation began to die – and kindling was born.

Duffey said the high surface temperatures force air to rise and get unstable. When air with fire underneath it rises, it brings the fire with it, he said.

"The air pulls in the fire and creates its own wind," he said. "That's how you get fire vortex, the 'firenadoes' that we have been seeing."

Almost 3,400 fire personnel were battling the fire, some of them on 36-hour rotations, with 17 helicopters, 334 fire engines, 68 dozers and 59 fire crews, according to Cal Fire.

“I can tell you we are making great strides every day,” Gouvea said. “We are very encouraged."

Arthur reported from Redding; Bacon from McLean, Va.

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