The National Weather Service noticed some erratic behavior from the Loyalton Fire in California this last weekend. They sent out a tweet out that said, “extremely dangerous fire bahavior noted on the Loyalton Fire. Rotating columns and potential for fire whirls”. Fire whirls are basically like tornadoes inside of a fire. They can be violent and do incredible damage.
They form when very intense heat from a fire rises and surrounding air rushes in to replace it. This creates a spinning column of air. That’s when you get a fire whirl or a fire tornado to form.
A fire tornado can toss around embers and more fire. This can grow the fire rapidly. This exact behavior happened on the Loyalton Fire this last weekend. The National Weather Service issued – for the first time in history – a Tornado Warning for fire tornado.
A fire tornado was on the ground middle of the 20-thousand acre wildfire in Northern California. The temperatures were so hot in this fire that it created its own weather system. This may not have been the only fire tornado. Doppler radar showed at least five areas of suspicious rotation in that fire.
Fire tornadoes can do just as much damage as a real tornado. In August of 2018, the Carr fire, in California, spawned a fire tornado that had winds speeds equal to an EF-3 tornado at an estimated 165 mph. It was a thousand feet in diameter and reached 40-thousand feet into the air. It, unfortunately, took the life of a firefighter and a bulldozer operator helping to fight that fire.
There is no way to predict whether a fire will create its own weather system. They have to be monitored by local official and the National Weather Service.