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Spectacular Destruction
November 19, 2012 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Fire whirls, aka fire tornadoes, aka fire devils, aka firenados, are frequently photographed but have only recently been scientifically validated based on data from the 2003 Canberra fires in Queensland, Australia. Although rare, the physics behind firenados is straightforward enough to create your own. The most devastating fire tornado was the "dragon twist" that devastated Tokyo immediately following the great Japan quake of 1923.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot (25 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
FWIW the "2003 Canberra fires" weren't in Queensland, they were in the Australian Capital Territory.

I think residents of both are now insulted…
posted by Pinback at 5:11 PM on November 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


the physics of the SHARKNADO are less well understood
posted by badstone at 5:11 PM on November 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Surely Dresden was worse.
posted by empath at 5:44 PM on November 19, 2012


Could two nuclear bombs generate a tornado?
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:48 PM on November 19, 2012


Surely Dresden was worse.

There's a competition?
posted by mattoxic at 5:53 PM on November 19, 2012


I'm not exactly sure how *rare* they are.

I worked for the U.S. Forest Service in the late 70's fighting forest fires. I've seen plenty of fire devils, some large enough to pick up head-sized boulders. Just saying.
posted by jgaiser at 6:02 PM on November 19, 2012


I think I speak with a certain amount of occupational authority when I say that one firefighter is definitely saying, in a puzzled tone, "Well, FUCK." [2nd link]
posted by WidgetAlley at 6:04 PM on November 19, 2012


Awesome, in the old fashioned sense. Thanks.
posted by skewed at 6:15 PM on November 19, 2012



I worked for the U.S. Forest Service in the late 70's fighting forest fires. I've seen plenty of fire devils, some large enough to pick up head-sized boulders. Just saying.
Fire whirls and dust devils seem to form more often at low wind speeds in open terrain," wrote Royal. "It's common to see dust devils and small fire whirls form on recently burned ground. The heat from the fresh burn plus the added solar heating makes for low-level instability and any errant gust of wind can produce a whirl."
Like you, I fought forest fires, and I won't say they were common - but I've many of them. I got caught in one once while we were eating lunch in a freshly burned out area. I was sitting on the end of the line of us when a dust/fire devil blew in. It hit me directly, and although I was unharmed - it was just so much hot air, really - it covered my sandwich in soot and debris.

I still ate it, but it was gross.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:18 PM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


The *one* I saw picking up a head-sized boulder was definitely *not* on recently burned ground, but in the middle of a current fire and was a fire filled twister. Very scary.
posted by jgaiser at 6:23 PM on November 19, 2012


There were some pretty good ones coming off of The Man when he burned at Burning Man last year. I was somewhat worried for the people gathered nearby - the safety cordoning is always pretty good, but doesn't take firenados into account...
posted by flaterik at 6:59 PM on November 19, 2012


"Our analysis indicated that the tornado had a rating of at least a 2, on the Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado severity.

"It had major effects on the behaviour of the fire on the urban edge and had enough force to remove roofs from houses and to blow cars off the road," Mr McRae said.
"It moved at over 30 km/h across the ground and had a basal diameter of nearly half a kilometre when it reached Chapman. It was a major tornado, but was barely noticed given the setting," he said.


It all happened a little bit south of my place. It was an... Interesting day.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:20 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, no, no: this is how you make a fire tornado out of household objects.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:28 PM on November 19, 2012


Surely Dresden was worse.

Dresden in Queensland?
posted by pompomtom at 7:35 PM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm really confused by the one article's use of "dragon twist" - the normal word for "tornado" in Japanese is written 竜巻, which is "dragon twist", but translating it in that way is like saying "tornado" should be written "Spanish Thunderstorm". Also has nothing to do with fire. Otherwise a nice article, though; thanks for the post.

If you really want strange explanations for weather phenomena, try 鎌鼬 kamaitachi, a whirlwind that's three weasels spinning so fast you can't see them.
posted by 23 at 7:43 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Head sized" is an interesting way of describing something.
posted by brundlefly at 7:49 PM on November 19, 2012


Dresden in Queensland?

Yup, they've got a Coles now.
posted by mattoxic at 8:28 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the "dragon twist" thing seems...weird. Like saying that Richard Dawkins finished a speech with "God be with ye", when he said "goodbye".
posted by Bugbread at 9:06 PM on November 19, 2012


That was a pretty scary time. Strange to think it was so long ago.
posted by Lina Lamont at 11:29 PM on November 19, 2012


FWIW the "2003 Canberra fires" weren't in Queensland, they were in the Australian Capital Territory. I think residents of both are now insulted…

As a former resident of Canberra, I magnanimously extend the hand of friendship to residents of Washington, Florida.
posted by rory at 2:58 AM on November 20, 2012


A firey tornado half a km wide was *barely noticed* because the rest of the fire/storm/weather was so fucking full-on. I'm glad you're ok, the duck by the oboe!
The research team also showed how a fire tornado is fundamentally different from a fire whirl, which is commonly associated with fires. "Tornadoes are associated with thunderstorms and as such they are anchored to a thundercloud above, and are able to sporadically lift off the ground. Fire whirls, on the other hand, are anchored to the ground and do not require the presence of a thunderstorm," Dr Sharples said.
Sometimes I think we get *too much* weather in Australia.

Obviously people who've been firefighters have experienced them enough for researchers to start gathering data on them, but it was new to me at the time. I'm glad they're looking into the conditions that would form them, any kind of research we can do to make bushfires more predictable or survivable is helpful.
posted by harriet vane at 3:28 AM on November 20, 2012


homemade mini fire tornado.
posted by exlotuseater at 8:13 AM on November 20, 2012


We laugh at your puny fire tornado. Ha, ha, ha. Now behold the SRL Flame Hurricane and be awed.
posted by warbaby at 8:16 AM on November 20, 2012


Canberra fires in Queensland

"It was only a matter of time before Gungahlin and Ipswich joined in the middle. "
"And that was Mega-Bogan 1?"
"Yes, son, it was. Times were dark. And then came the Judges."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:19 AM on November 21, 2012


OK, not funny. Scary. Not funny at all. Stop that.
posted by pompomtom at 3:26 AM on November 21, 2012


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