The name “fire tornado” sounds pretty scary. A fire tornado is also known as a fire devil, firenado, fire twister, and fire whirl, none of them sounding much less concerning (maybe “fire whirl). Regardless of which name you use, this natural occurrence happens when intense rising heat and tempestuous wind conditions combine. This volatile combination creates whirling tornado-like event. It’s a rare phenomenon which most people never come across in their lifetime.

This natural phenomenon generally consists of a core which is on fire, plus an invisible rotating pocket of air. It can reach up to 2,000 Fahrenheit (1,090 Celsius) and usually comes about when a wildfire or firestorm creates wind, which, in turn, becomes a spinning flame vortex, something right out of a science fiction movie. Fire tornadoes generally move pretty slowly, which isn’t to say that they aren’t dangerous. Definitely run in the opposite direction, should you come across one. Most fire tornadoes are fueled by the carbon-rich gases which are released by burning vegetation on the ground. They are sucked up by air, and reach the core, where there is enough heated oxygen to ignite it. Winds of more than 100 miles per hour can be caused by large fire tornadoes. These winds are strong enough to even knock down trees. People who get caught by a fire tornado can be burned alive. Fire tornadoes can last for more than an hour and cannot directly be extinguished, making them that much more dangerous.

There are three types of fire tornadoes.

Type one is stable and is centered over a burning area.

Type two is either stable or transient. It is located downwind of a burning area.

Type 3 is steady or transient and is centered over an open area, near an uneven burning area with wind.

During the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake in Japan, a city-sized firestorm ignited. This produced a monstrous fire tornado that killed 38,000 people. No, that’s not a typo. THIRTY-EIGHT THOUSAND. How long did that take? FIFTEEN MINUTES. The evidence suggests that this was a type 3 fire whirl.

Fire tornadoes are usually 30-200 feet or 10-50 meters. Some of the largest have been more than half a mile tall and have been known to last more than 20 minutes.

You are most likely to never encounter a fire tornado during your lifetime. The following is an incredible clip of this amazing natural phenomenon in action:


Sound off in the comments section down below and let us know what you think of this rare spectacle.

Barak Bacharach, SkySaver Content Manager