Fire whirl, or waterspout, or fire tornado?

Spectacular video at a fire near Blythe, California

Above: screenshot from the video below.

Chris Mackie posted this video on July 15, 2018 of spectacular fire behavior at a wildfire on the Arizona side of the Colorado River near Blythe, California. It is not uncommon to see dust devils and fire whirls during unstable weather conditions on a fire, but as you can see beginning at about 1:10 the rotating vortex over this fire intensifies into what some might call a fire tornado (or “firenado”) as trees are uprooted and debris is thrown into the water as it moves over the river (and transforms into a waterspout?).

We have written about similar phenomenons several times on Wildfire Today. Here is an excerpt from a 2016 article, “Defining fire whirls and fire tornados”:


“The news media sometimes calls any little fire whirl a “fire tornado, or even a “firenado”. We found out today that these and related terms (except for “firenado”) were, if not founded, at least documented and defined in 1978 by a researcher for the National Weather Service in Missoula, David W. Goens. He grouped fire whirls into four classes:

  1. Fire Devils. They are a natural part of fire turbulence with little influence on fire behavior or spread. They are usually on the order of 3 to 33 feet in diameter and have rotational velocities less than 22 MPH.
  2. Fire Whirls. A meld of the fire, topograph, and meteorological factors. These play a significant role in fire spread and hazard to control personnel. The average size of this class is usually 33 to 100 feet, with rotational velocities of 22 to 67 MPH.
  3. Fire Tornadoes. These systems begin to dominate the large scale fire dynamics. They lead to extreme hazard and control problems. In size, they average 100 to 1,000 feet in diameter and have rotational velocities up to 90 MPH.
  4. Fire Storm. Fire behavior is extremely violent. Diameters have been observed to be from 1,000 to 10,000 feet and winds estimated in excess of 110 MPH. This is a rare phenomenon and hopefully one that is so unlikely in the forest environment that it can be disregarded.”

Large fire whirl on Gorman Fire

This is a very impressive large fire whirl over the Gorman Fire Friday in Los Angeles County, filmed by Kevin Takumi for FoxLA.com

The images are screenshots from Mr. Takumi’s video.

fire whirl gorman fire

Video of impressive fire whirls in Nebraska

Above: Screen capture from the video by Jon Krause.

Twitter user @JonLKrause posted videos of a large, long-lasting dust devil/fire whirl that persisted over a prescribed fire at Kramper Lake near Hubbard, Nebraska for about five minutes on Tuesday April 11.

 

Sometimes these are called “firenadoes” but this one did not have much fire in it. Dust devils and fire whirls can occur on days when the atmosphere is unstable. The heat from what remained of the fire and the solar heating of the blackened ground probably contributed to the phenomenon. It is interesting that after moving to the edge of the lake it still persisted for a while before dying out.

fire whirl dust devil
Screen capture from the video by Jon Krause.

Two firefighters injured on prescribed fire in Texas

Borger Fire Department TexasTwo firefighters suffered burn injuries March 9 while working on a prescribed fire in the panhandle of Texas and were airlifted to a hospital. The Borger Fire Department  (map) has confirmed that two of their personnel, fire fighter Clay Lozier and fire chief Bob Watson, were injured transported to Lubbock for treatment.

According to Amarillo.com:

Borger Fire Chief Bob Watson remains in serious condition Saturday at the UMC Timothy J. Harnar Burn Center in Lubbock, according to BFD Lieutenant Stacy Nolen, and Borger firefighter Clay Lozier, who was injured in the same incident, has since been released from the burn unit.

News Channel 10 reports that the prescribed fire on the JA Ranch in Donley County was going well until a juniper tree torched, causing a spot fire. The firefighters almost had that contained when a fire whirl “threw fire 30 yards in every direction”, ranch owner Andrew Bivins said.

There was a burn ban in effect in Donley County but Texas law exempts prescribed fires from burn bans.

A do it yourself fire whirl

This gentleman created a do it yourself device for making what he calls a fire tornado. Generally in the wildland fire world we reserve that term for very large scale fire whirls that could be hundreds of feet in diameter. Fire whirls are much smaller and not terribly uncommon if the atmosphere is unstable.

What he made is interesting and no doubt fun to look at. But we feel compelled to point out some of the safety hazards if you were considering making something like this. Cutting glass with a 110-volt power tool cooled with a jerry-rigged running water setup is not the smartest thing in the world. Then there’s the liquid fuel burning in a cup.

Hopefully plugging something into a GFCI outlet will save me if something goes wrong.

There must be an easier way to construct a device like this without having to cut glass. I wonder if you could use a glass chimney from a kerosene lantern mounted on a base that has vents allowing the air to enter at an angle so as to encourage the whirling motion?

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dave.