Death blew east on a savage wind, driving flames over foothills and across a river, spitting glowing embers and scrubbing the earth bare. It was coming for Don Andrews.
The firestorm shook the ground and roared as loud as a passing train. The windows on Andrews’s bulldozer shattered, flinging glass into his face. The blue-green shards were everywhere: on the floor, inside his helmet, in his skin and eyes. He was alone and blinded.
I’m not going to survive this, he thought.
Andrews, 60, wasn’t supposed to be this close to the edge. He’d been hired that day, July 26, 2018, by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) to work with two other bulldozer drivers to carve a thick ring of dirt around a subdivision of homes near the city of Redding. It was a fairly routine assignment—the containment lines were three dozer blades wide and designed to halt the advance of the wildfire, which was still miles away.
What Andrews didn’t know was that the Carr Fire—to that point a rather ordinary California blaze—had spawned something monstrous: a fire tornado the likes of which the state had never seen.
A freak of meteorology, it would annihilate everything in its path, uprooting trees and crumpling electrical towers. It was a vortex of air wrapped around a column o