Tornado created by straw fire kills man in truck

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A huge fire from burning straw created a tornado Wednesday that tossed about a pickup truck, killing the 63-year-old driver.

The "fire funnel" came from the heat given off by the straw fire colliding with the cold air, said Chuck Sanderson of the Manitoba Fire Commissioner's office.

Colder air rushes in when the fire consumes oxygen, creating swirling that "just self-propels itself from the heat," Sanderson said.

Fire funnels "occur in varying degrees in every little fire but you just don't see them," he said. "The bigger the fire, the bigger these vortexes get, and this one was huge."

The fire consumed most of 90,000 bales of flax straw stored outside the Ecusta Fibers plant in Winkler, 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Winnipeg. Straw is a raw material for paper products.

Sgt. Steve Saunders of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Irvin Harder's death was being investigated as a possible homicide because the fire may have been deliberately set.

Harder and two passengers were driving near the Ecusta plant where they worked when the fire funnel struck. The truck was tossed into the air and landed 50 meters (yards) from the road in a field.

Both passengers were hospitalized, with one of them released later Wednesday. Harder was dead at the scene.

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