Fighting a brush fire with flappers and a helicopter

The video below shows something that I didn’t think was possible — fighting a brush fire with flappers. I have used them on grass and leaf litter fires, but never imagined that they could be an effective tool on a brush fire. However in this video which shows firefighters in Spain, they have the assistance of water drops from a helicopter.

It is an interesting video that features a helicopter-based wildland firefighting crew. Here is the description that is on YouTube, translated from Spanish by Google Translate:

Diary of a firefighter

A brief tour of the work of the fire fighters of BRIF (reinforcement Brigades forest fire) from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

MAGRAMA currently has ten BRIF service during summer campaigns, distributed all over the country, and five smaller BRIF during the winter-spring season, in the north and west of the peninsula during the winter also BRIF perform preventive tasks ranging from cleaning up tracks controlled burning. Their bases are located in areas of high fire risk or high forest wealth that must be protected. At the same time, seeking to achieve strategic locations by helicopter anywhere in the State within a reasonable time.

The video also has some footage of a fire whirl or fire tornado, however it is much smaller than some of the others we have reported on. But still, I would not want to be standing next to it.


Thanks go out to Juan

Video of fire tornado in Australia

Outback fire tornadoes-Australia from chris tangey on Vimeo.

Check out the strong indrafts going toward the fire vortices in this video. Very impressive.

We have written quite a few articles about fire tornadoes, sometimes called fire whirls. The more scientific name for them is fire vortices. Our posts about them can be found under the tag “fire tornado“.

Here is the description of the above video on YouTube:


THERE’S something mean and magical about Australia’s Outback. An Alice Springs filmmaker captured both when a whirlwind of fire erupted before his eyes.

Chris Tangey of Alice Springs Film and Television was scouting locations near Curtin Springs station, about 80km from Ularu, last week when confronted by a fiery phenomenon.

He had just finished his tour of the station when workers encountered difficulties with a grader. So he went to help them.

A small fire was burning in nearby bushland, so Mr Tangey decided to start filming.

He caught the sight of his life.

A twister touched down on the spot fire, fanning it into a furious tower of flame.

“It sounded like a jet fighter going by, yet there wasn’t a breath of wind where we were,” he told the Northern Territory News.

“You would have paid $1000 a head if you knew it was about to happen.”

The column of fire danced about the landscape for about 40 minutes, he said, as he and the station workers stood transfixed.

There was talk of making a quick getaway, Mr Tangey said. But everyone was too hypnotised to feel scared – and he continued furiously filming.

“The bizarre thing was that it rarely moved,” he said.

“These things just stood there because there was no wind to move them … but it was flickering incredibly fast.”

Darwin weather forecaster David Matthews said small twisters were common in isolated areas. But the fiery vortex was highly unusual.

“The flames would have assisted by trying to suck in air and that could have helped generate those circular winds,” Mr Matthews said.

Fire tornado in North Dakota

Sometimes large fire whirls over wildfires, spinning columns of air, debris, and sometimes flames, are called “fire tornadoes”. If they are on or close to the ground the more accurate term is most likely “fire whirl”. We have reported on them before, including one in Hawaii. We even posted a picture of the tracks of dust devils, spinning air not associated with a fire, on Mars. Yes, Mars.

Fire tornado, North DakotaWhen Kelly Schwartz was driving home after getting gasoline in his vehicle on October 24, 2011, near Langdon, North Dakota he spotted a smoke column over a vegetation fire. Being a photographer, he pulled out his camera and started taking some pictures. The smoke, back-lit by the afternoon sun, made for some good photos. But then he saw something unusual in the smoke.

Fire tornado, North DakotaThe photos are published here with Kelly’s permission.

He said on his blog:

…I start to notice this tornado looking thing in the smoke. I found an approach and snapped some more pictures. 10 minutes later I arrived at fire, but it had died down quiet a bit and wasn’t producing as much smoke and the tornado looking thing was gone.

Kelly sent the photos to the National Weather Service to get their opinion on what he had seen. Here is an excerpt from their analysis, written by Gregory Gust, NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist:


“…Why did this “Fire Tornado” occur?

A Fire Whirl generally forms when superheated air near the surface of a large fire zone rises rapidly in an airmass where sufficient horizontal or vertical vorticity is also present. Much like a dust devil or whirlwind, the rapidly rising air above a wildfire can accelerate and turn the local vorticity into a tight vertical vortex, now composed of fire instead of dust. Whereas the dust devil will often mix out its local temperature discontinuity and the vortex dissipate rather quickly, over a few minutes or less, the wildfire zone can help maintain a fairly long-lived fire whirl lasting for several minutes or more.

A Fire Tornado would be a much more extreme example, and involve a Fire Whirl that had stretched vertically from the ground up to the base of developing cumuliform clouds. In our case, the vortex extended nearly 3900 feet high.

What’s the Meteorology behind all of this?

A below listed article by Mike Umscheid, with the NWS office in Dodge City KS, has a great meteorological explanation and example of how this process initiates.

Our detailed analysis of the Langdon event will take some time to complete, but preliminary information suggests that similar ingredients are present as follows: 1. the fire zone heating produced the rapidly rising air, 2. the lower level winds had enough environmental shear to induce a vertical vorticity near the surface and get the fire whirl going, and then sustain it.

In addition, we suspect that at least two additional factors were in play, as follows: 3. low level moisture was sufficient to rise, cool, condense and form the pyro-cumulus cloud deck, and 4. the lifted condensation level (LCL) was close enough to the level of free convection (LFC) so that the developing pyro-cumulus quickly became a towering cumulus… which may have increased the overall up draft speed and vertical vorticity to such an extent that the near surface Fire Whirl stretched into a Fire Tornado.

The 2:55 p.m. CDT report from the Langdon Airport listed winds at 3 mph from the east, with visibilities reduced to 1.25 miles in haze, and lowest cloud heights of 3700 to 3900 feet AGL. The next published observation, at 3:15 p.m. CDT, listed winds as calm, visibilities as unrestricted (10 miles or greater), and skies as overcast at 3900 feet AGL.

According to local observers, the pyro-cumulus cloud developed quite quickly above the fire zone as the ascending smoke plume then took on its whirl.”

Fire tornado in Hawaii

We have seen recent videos of fire whirls, such as the one HERE, but a video that recently surfaced of wind rotation over a fire near the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island of Hawaii is very impressive. There is no way I would want to be anywhere near a potentially lethal situation like the one in the video below. It was shot on Sunday by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

When you watch it, click on full screen (the little symbol next to the speaker icon), and also listen to the audio.

(The video is no longer available)

Did you notice that the firefighters in the white fire truck got out of there as soon as they saw what was going on? And eventually the photographer did too. Smart move.