We’ve all heard of standard tornadoes – “a violently rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the earth and a cumulonimbus cloud”, but their fiery counterparts are an extremely rare phenomenon. Simply put, “a fire tornado, also know as a fire devil, is caused when a column of warm, rising air comes into contact – or causes – a fire on the ground; these fire whirls are known to last for around two minutes on the very rare occasions they take place.” Continue reading to see five of them that were captured on video by photographers from around the world.

5. Artificial

A fire whirl, colloquially fire devil or fire tornado, is a phenomenon – rarely captured on camera – in which a fire, under certain conditions (depending on air temperature and currents), acquires a vertical vorticity and forms a whirl, or a tornado-like vertically oriented rotating column of air. Fire whirls may be whirlwinds separated from the flames, either within the burn area or outside it, or a vortex of flame, itself.

4. Unknown Location

Most of the largest fire tornados are spawned from wildfires. They form when a warm updraft and convergence from the wildfire are present. They are usually 10-50 meters tall, a few meters wide, and last only a few minutes. However, some can be more than a kilometer tall, contain winds over 160 km/h, and persist for more than 20 minutes.

3. Griffith Park

Fire whirls can uproot trees up to 15 metres (49 ft) tall. These can also aid the ‘spotting’ ability of wildfires to propagate and start new fires. Visually impressive fire whirls may be encountered during dry wind gusts at the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, late on Saturday or Sunday evening during the burning of The Man or Temple, respectively.

2. Brazil

A lethal combination of strong dry winds and brush fires created a stunning, if slightly terrifying, ‘fire tornado’ in Brazil. The whirlwind of fire, a rare phenomenon, was caught on camera as it glided across fields and brought highway traffic to a halt in the Brazilian municipality of Aracatuba. However, the flame, which was said to be several yards high, disappeared before too long.

1. Australia

Chris Tangey had been out in Alice Springs, Australia, scouting locations for a new movie. After finishing the task, he went over to help workers at a cattle station when he was confronted by one of nature’s most intimidating spectacles. Just 300-metres away was a 30-metre high fire swirl which ‘sounded like a fighter jet’ despite there being no wind in the area.

The 52-year-old said: ‘The weather was perfectly still and it was about 25 degrees celsius – it was an entirely uneventful day. ‘Then the next thing a man is yelling ‘what the hell is that?’ and I turned around and saw a 30-metre fire tornado.’I was about 300-metres away and there was no wind but the tornado sounded like a fighter jet. My jaw just dropped.’Mr Tangey, who runs Alice Springs Film and Television, in central Australia, described it as a ‘once in ten lifetimes experience’.

[Sources 1 | 2 | 3 | 4]