Imagine the destruction caused by a fire or by a tornado. Now consider both of them mixed together. Well, it's not as rare you might think. In fact, it happens at least once a year in the US alone.
Depending on air currents and temperature, the rotating vortex from which an ordinary tornado forms can suck up fire and anything burning, resulting in the phenomena you can see in these pictures.
In 1923, a fire tornado sucked up not only fire and burning embers, but also killed 38,000 people within 15 minutes.
Lightning can often be the source of the fire after it strikes something flammable like a pool of gasoline or oil storage tanks. With the right wind speeds, the fire may soon become part of a tornadic vortex that can burn or level anything in its path.
These dangerous fire tornadoes, or fire whirls, as they are sometimes called, have the power to uproot trees 49 feet tall – the equivalent in height of a five-story building. Fire tornadoes tend to be 10 to 15 meters tall and a few feet wide, though they may last only a few minutes, according to this source.
The core of the fire tornado is an invisible pocket of oxygen that feeds the eddie. At the core, there may be temperatures of at least 2,000 degrees Farenheit. Wildfires are usually the spark that allow these types of tornado to form.
The heat from these enormous fire beasts is enough to reignite ash or other smoldering debris. But, again, their main life force is a rich supply of oxygen.
Though they aren't stationary, fire tornadoes usually move slowly, at around the speed at which most people walk.
Large fire tornadoes can reach up to 160 miles per hour, according to this source.
There is no way to extinguish fire tornadoes, due to their sheer velocity and unique structure. Recently, a fire tornado claimed 1,400 acres of the Big Island of Hawaii. See a video of the fire tornado in Hawaii here.
It would be a real treat to see one of these big guys in action! Anywhere there is enormous heat, wind and humidity, a fire tornado could potentially form.
Yet however exciting they are for us, they are a nightmare for fire fighters. See, there's nothing they can do to extinguish these bad boys once they have started. Fire whirls must simply be allowed to burn themselves out.