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The Latest: Dozer driver slipped 3 times before fatal fall

August 3, 2018

REDDING, Calif. (AP) — The Latest on California wildfires (all times local):

11:50 a.m.

A California bulldozer operator nearly slipped off a steep mountain trail three times before his vehicle finally rolled into a ravine and fatally crushed him.

A Department of Forestry and Fire Protection preliminary report says each earlier slip alone qualified as a “near miss” warning that the century-old mining trail could collapse.

The report says 36-year-old Braden Varney, a 10-year veteran, was working alone overnight July 14 fighting a wildfire sparked hours earlier outside Yosemite National Park.

His assistant had gone to get a new hydraulic hose. Varney’s radio wasn’t communicating with headquarters, so his assistant relayed messages — until they lost contact.

The report says Varney’s death highlights the need for better risk assessment, communication and supervision.

Varney became the first of four California firefighters to die this year.

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11:15 a.m.

Experts say a deadly Northern California wildfire burned so hot at its peak that it created a cyclone of flames that reached 143 mph, ripping through the region with the force of a destructive Midwest tornado.

National Weather Service meteorologist Duane Dykema said Friday that the blaze still burning near Redding created a fire whirl that uprooted trees and tore roofs from homes.

Dykema says the whirl started when hot air from the exceptionally hot fire rose and twisted tightly, creating a powerful tornado of flames and wind.

He says fire whirls are common, but not at the intensity recorded on July 26. The fire burning near Redding has grown to 206 square miles (533 square kilometers) and destroyed at least 1,060 homes.

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7:40 a.m.

Increasing winds are expected in Northern California areas where deadly and destructive wildfires are burning.

The National Weather Service has issued warnings for critical fire weather conditions Friday and Saturday as a series of dry low-pressure systems pass through the region, bringing gusts up to 35 mph (56 kph) in the afternoon.

Forecasters say highest threat areas include a fire near the city of Redding and the Mendocino Complex of two fires north of San Francisco. The forecast includes extremely low humidity levels that leave vegetation ready to burn.

The 206-square-mile (533-square-kilometer) Carr Fire 100 miles south of the Oregon border is 39 percent contained after destroying 1,060 homes and many other structures. Two firefighters have died there.

New evacuations were ordered late Thursday at the Mendocino Complex.

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