Sometimes a wildland fire produces a vertical twister of flame called a fire whirl or fire tornado (sometimes called a firenado). A well-known recent example of this was the devastating Carr fire in California in 2018, which produced a highly destructive fire tornado.
One wildfire can produce multiple fire whirls and fire tornadoes of varying sizes and temperatures that last for different amounts of time. These are produced when hot air rises quickly and hits cooler air, creating a rotating column of air that pushes the flames into an upward spiralling motion.
Fire whirls are smaller scale than fire tornados. Usually, fire whirls have a diameter of just a few feet, while a fire tornado is normally categorized as being 100-1000 feet in diameter. Both are fast moving and have a high temperature.
Fire whirls are very short-lived and do not cause a lot of damage. Fire tornadoes don’t last a long time either--just a few minutes--but they last longer than fire whirls and can be extremely destructive. Fire tornados can burn a large amount quickly and spread wildfires far very quickly.
At Spiedr, we understand how wildland fire works and it is our mission to help communities maintain safety and control in the face of wildfires. We offer fire suppression training, equipment rental, and consulting services.