Back in 2018, a research ecologist for the US Fire Service found himself suddenly on the edges of the largest fire tornado ever observed, “a whirling vortex of flame 17,000 feet tall and rotating at 143 mph, with the destructive force of an EF-3 tornado, the kind that erases entire towns in Oklahoma.” The rare phenomenon was part of the Carr Fire, which burned large swaths of land in Northern California, and behaved in dangerously anomalous ways.
So then, if a scientist who studies organisms and their relationship to the environment wasn’t able to predict what might happen in a fire, what chance does anyone else have? And are there any tools researchers can use to help determine what comes next in the fire-prone American west?
That’s what writer Dan Duane tried to discover while reporting his November cover story for WIRED. He joins us to share his reporting