Firefighters from Alberta’s St. Albert Fire Department had a close call Thursday April 14 while fighting a wildfire at Big Lake in the Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park (map). The fire intensity increased very suddenly as the flames moved into a heavy patch of flashy fuel. The heated, rising air began swirling or rotating in a manner that is not uncommon on wildfires. This is usually called a “fire whirl”. But it kept building and growing larger — beyond what most firefighters would call a fire whirl and approached what is sometimes known as a “fire tornado”.
In the image above and the video below, firefighters on the left side of the smoke column were forced to run away from the very extreme fire behavior. One of them, Vincent Pashko, a nine-year veteran with the St. Albert fire department, can be seen emerging from the smoke sprinting toward the Sturgeon River. Here is an excerpt from the St. Albert Gazette:
…“Before I knew it, I heard the guys screaming at me, ‘Watch out!’” Pashko said.
“I turned around and I saw this big wall of hot ash coming towards me.”
Paschko turned away and could feel the heat burning the back of his ears and neck. “Holy smokes,” he recalled thinking, “this is more serious than I thought.”
Paschko ran into the Sturgeon [River] and dunked his head underwater for protection.
“I was booting it! I could have won the Olympics this year, I think!”
While this was definitely a close call, Paschko said at the time he was more worried about his fellow firefighters, as he wasn’t sure if they had been caught up in the blaze. When he heard them calling him, he shouted back, “I’m OK, I’m OK,” and returned to shore.
The vortex itself, which rose up several hundred feet, swirled out over the water and petered out about halfway across the river, [Stewart] Loomis said.
Pashko said he was taken to the Sturgeon Community Hospital after he had calmed down a bit where he was treated for smoke inhalation. He was back at work Friday with a bit of blistering around his ears, face, and the back of his neck…
The video below was filmed by Diane Logan. Click the arrows at bottom-right to see it in full-screen mode.
Truly incredible video of fire tornado that happened during brush fire causing our firefighter to escape into river pic.twitter.com/8BdeZDfeL5
— StAlbertFirefighters (@saffu2130) April 17, 2016