42,000-foot plumes of ash. 143-mph firenadoes. 1,500-degree heat. These wildfires are a new kind of hell on earth, and scientists are racing to learn its rules. “We’re running 400 to 500 fires a year. In the heat of summer, five or six a day—and most you’ll never see,” says CalFire chief Brian Estes. Photograph: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times On the windy, hot day of July 26, 2018, as record 113-degree temperatures baked Redding, California, in the northern Sacramento Valley, Eric Knapp toiled in an air-conditioned government office. After work, he planned to meet his wife and 3-year-old daughter, and some family friends, for dinner. Slender and fair-skinned with a gentle smile, Knapp is a research ecologist for the US Forest Service. He was well aware that, three days earlier, in coastal mountains west of town, a wildfire had started when a trailer got a flat tire and the metal […]