REDDING (CBS SF) — It sounds like a deadly twist to a late night science fiction movie, but to the crews battling the massive wildfire weaving a destructive path through Redding it was all too real.

They go by many names — fire devils, firenado, fire whirls, fire tornados — all sounding a bit diabolical and to be feared.

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Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said the fiery vortexes ranging in size up to 150 feet presented firefighters with a difficult challenge on Thursday night.

“It’s just a heck of a fight,” he said. “They (the firefighters) are doing what they can do and they get pushed out in a lot of cases. We’re fighting the fight right now.”

He said the fire behavior was so erratic there were tornados within the fire “tossing around equipment, blowing out windows of Cal Fire pickups.”

The fire whirls may occur when intense rising heat and turbulent wind conditions combine to form whirling eddies of air. These eddies can contract into a tornado-like vortex that sucks in burning debris and combustible gases.

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“This giant rotating cylinder on top of the fire, composed of smoke, pulls burning embers and smoldering debris thousands of feet into the atmosphere,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California at Los Angeles, told the San Jose Mercury News. ““It allows fire to jump over barriers..It causes it (the fire) to do crazy, very unpredictable things.”

Professor Craig Clements, Director of the Fire Weather Research Lab at San Jose State University, told KPIX 5 that a fire as intense as the Carr Fire will create its own weather patterns.

“If a fire is intense enough it can create its own winds,” he said. “They are winds that occur just around the fire.”

Among those winds are fire whirls.

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“It’s a rotating column of combustion gases so its kind of like a tornado,” he said. “It’s a vortex that can form at the fire front. It can take the fire to unburned fuel really rapidly.”