9 Amazing Fire Tornadoes




Fire tornadoes rank right up there with the strangest, scariest and most spectacular natural phenomena though they often arise as a result of human-caused misadventures. Also known as fire whirls or fire devils, fire tornadoes can rage for more than 20 minutes, uproot 50ft tall trees and rise hundreds of feet into the atmosphere.

An Unpleasant Twist


Fire tornadoes superficially resemble “ordinary” tornadoes in appearance but as frightening as a meteorological twister can be, adding fire to the mix amps up the fear factor to nightmarish levels. They’re also extremely unpredictable, forming in a matter of seconds and petering out just as quickly. The pair of images above show a forest fire raging on the slopes of Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii; without and (suddenly) with a fire tornado.

A Spin In The Outback


“These really large-scale fire tornadoes occur at least once every year somewhere in the U.S.,” according to Jason Forthofer, a mechanical engineer at the U.S. Forest Services’s Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory in Montana. “If we can identify conditions that are conducive to fire whirls, that would be a heads-up for firefighters because there have been some [people] that have been burned by them.” Filmmaker Chris Tangey narrowly avoided becoming one such statistic while scouting locations near Curtin Springs, Australia, in 2012. The fire whirl he captured photographically above is estimated to have been 100 feet or roughly 30 meters in height.

Smoke On A Rope


While obeying the same physical laws as other more typical weather conditions, fire tornadoes can also induce meteorological phenomena such as clouds. The short-lived fire tornado documented above by SkyWarn storm spotter Kelly Schwartz near Langdon, ND, is a perfect example. In a span of just 3 minutes on the afternoon of October 24th, 2011, a “tornadic rope” spinning above a grass fire lifted moist air almost 4,000 feet skywards, producing a what’s known as a pyro-cumulus cloud.

A Brazilian Tornadoes!


A tornado is defined by the AMS Glossary of Meteorology as “a violently rotating column of air, in contact with the ground and pendant (attached) to a cumuliform cloud.” This accurately describes most large fire whirls occurring in natural settings unaided by human activity. Standing almost too close for comfort in this flaming field near Aracatuba in the Brazilian state of Sao Paolo, one can easily see the strong relationship between typical tornadoes and fire tornadoes. Check out this 2010 video of the fire whirl in action.

California Whirls


Coastal California’s unique environment isn’t only conducive to a great lifestyle, it’s also ideal for wind-blown fires and accompanying fire tornadoes – and the latter definitely don’t complement the former! Various photographers have documented some truly spectacular fire tornadoes over the past decade including those shown above.

Blazing Seattles


OK, it’s actually rural Oregon but that’s close enough for a reference I’ve been saving for quite a while. Kudos to photographer Terri Jo Adams who happened to be in the right place at the right time, camera in hand. “A rare opportunity arose to capture a field fire twister in action,” explained Adams, “amazing isn’t it?” No argument here!

Hungary For Oxygen


Fighting fires while avoiding hazardous materials is about as tough as it gets for first responders but how many Hungarian firefighters expected this? While tackling a huge blaze at a plastic processing plant in Kistarcsa, a suburb of Budapest, around 70 emergency personnel found themselves confronting a swirling, shifting tornado of fire. The scene recalled some of the enormous firestorms that sprung up in the aftermath of Second World War bombing raids on Hamburg, Germany and Tokyo, Japan.

Burning Man, With A Twist


The “Burning of the Man” is the unquestioned highlight of Nevada’s annual Burning Man festival but the climactic event often provides a few surprises of its own: fire tornadoes! The series of columns seen spinning off the main pyre aren’t flaming, though they tend to reflect the orange hue of the central bonfire. Instead, these are a form of dust devil created when the sudden ignition of the Man spurs an equally sudden updraft of hot air over the playa. Spectacular and safe – well, relatively so – since multiple flaming fire tornadoes in the center of an impromptu mass celebration might tend to put a damper on the festivities.

Fire Walk With Me


What better way to close than with Michael Holden’s incredible photographic composition, Fire Walk With Me. Holden used a Nikon D80 camera to capture this once-in-a-lifetime tableau of a firefighter in a proximity suit as he seemingly “shakes hands” with a fire tornado. The shot was captured on September 4th, 2011, at the Temple of Transition’s burn at the annual Burning Man festival in northwestern Nevada.



 
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