This Is What a Firenado Looks Like

Once spinning, the flaming cyclones can whip winds of up to 150 mph and hurl flaming debris into the air.
July 14, 2021, 9:32pm
​Still from U.S. Fire Service video of a  firenado near Mount Shasta in Northern California on June 29, 2021.
Still from U.S. Fire Service video of a firenado near Mount Shasta in Northern California on June 29, 2021. 

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A monstrous firenado caught on video in Northern California shot out flames and flung dust on firefighting crews attempting to extinguish the blaze.

The U.S. Fire Service captured the hellish phenomenon near Mount Shasta on June 29, where the Tennant Fire was just contained after burning for almost one month straight and other firenadoes have been spotted. The vortex’s center, where the flames and dust are spinning, looks in the video to be several feet wide, and the flames almost totally engulf heavy machinery and trucks nearby.  

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The fire burned 10,580 acres before being 100 percent contained on Tuesday. Over the last several weeks, hundreds of people were evacuated in Siskiyou County, and major highways were shut down. Firenadoes have also appeared in nearby areas, including the area of the Lava Fire, which continues to burn in Siskiyou and was only 77 percent contained as of Wednesday. It’s close to a nearby town literally called Weed, and the blaze has put hundreds of residential homes and many weed farms at risk. 

The stuff of nightmares, firenados—or fire tornadoes—are real, caused by air-pressure differences and intense wind. Once spinning, the flaming cyclones can whip winds of up to 150 miles per hour and hurl flaming debris into the air. They can also cause spot fires, or smaller fires on the outskirts of a main fire complex. 

 “The fuels are so tinder-dry that there are huge areas igniting—thousands of acres of fire progression in hours. So what happens is just like in a natural tornado,” Neal Driscoll, a professor of Geoscience at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said at a conference last month. “You create a pressure differential, and all of sudden you have hot, warm air rising, and then air surrounding it moving it.” 

 Firenadoes also require extremely hot blazes and dry conditions to form, so they serve as extreme indicators of how dire a wildfire situation has become. A devastating drought has hit California this year, and in 2020, Australia saw massive tornadoes that ripped across bush fires due to drought as well. In fact, scientists say climate change is making the phenomenon more common.