An unimagined, unprecedented, and profoundly horrifying fire tornado (or firenado) was determined to be the cause of death of a Redding firefighter who died on July 26 as the fast-growing Carr Fire hit its apex. Death came in an instant in the most intense tornado ever in the state, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday.
The monster tornado with a base the size of three football fields and winds up to 165 miles an hour swept down upon Jeremiah “Jeremy” Stoke in mere seconds, according to a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection report.
At 7:39 p.m. the longtime Redding Fire Department veteran was driving his Ford F-150 truck down Buenaventura Road in northwest Redding, working on evacuating residents. One minute later he radioed out a “mayday” call saying he was getting burned over, and then his transmissions abruptly stopped.
Fire dispatchers desperately tried to find him by “pinging” his cell phone. One Cal Fire supervisor, leading evacuees as he went, drove north on Buenaventura toward where Stoke, a 37-year-old fire inspector, had been headed. There was no sign of him.
Meanwhile, the tornado was so ferocious it pulsed with 2,700 degrees of heat. It ripped roofs off houses and flung cars, power line towers and a steel shipping container into the air — all within a half-mile of the spot where Stoke was believed to have been trapped, according to the report. The phenomenon, exploding in the middle of what was already a gigantic, devastating wildfire, was so unusual even Cal Fire investigators are still struggling to understand it.
Several videos show a terrifying, huge funnel dwarfing houses and fields as it shoves its swirling, flame-filled clouds high into the air. One video shows a tornado skipping along the water’s surface at Keswick Dam.
Stoke was well familiar with the dangers of out-of-control wildfires. But this tornado, the report and experts say, was unlike anything experienced before in California — quick, hot, huge and unpredictable.