Open in the curiosity app
Sharknado Isn't Real, But Fire Tornadoes Are

Sharknado Isn't Real, But Fire Tornadoes Are

Between earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, nature can do some scary stuff. But have you ever heard of a fire tornado? They're real, and they can be devastating.

What Are They?

Though most of them last for only a few minutes, fire tornadoes—also known as fire whirls or fire devils—move quickly and can cause massive destruction. They're capable of picking up cars and even houses as they spin across the landscape. However, they're more similar to dust devils than true tornadoes, as they result when hot, dry air rises from the ground. 

Here's how they happen: energy released by a burning fire makes a column of hot air rise, and wind fanning the fire makes that column twist, forming a small tornado. Fire tornados form when that pocket of air surrounds a central burning core, meanwhile bringing in combustible gases from burning plants that itself ignites to join in the fray. According to National Geographic, "The tornado's core is often one to three feet across but can expand up to tens of feet in the largest cases."

Fire Tornadoes In History

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 was all the more devastating because it caused a fire tornado, also known as a "dragon twist." The fire tornado was allegedly 90 meters tall, and killed 38,000 people or more. In 2010, a fire tornado formed in a blaze on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and in 2017, a 3,000-foot-tall fire tornado wreaked havoc in the midwest region of Western Australia. 

Is there something you're curious about? Email us at editors (at) curiosity.com. And follow Curiosity on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Videos About Fire Tornadoes

Fire Tornado In Slow Motion

It's almost hypnotizing.

Share the knowledge!
play_circle_filled replay

Key Facts In This Video

  1. The most frequent natural cause of bushfires is lightning, but the majority of wildfires are started by humans. 00:36

  2. Jewel beetles fly towards wildfires to mate in the ruins left behind. 01:27

  3. Watch a fire tornado form in slow motion: 02:50

Why Are Scientists Are Creating Fire Tornadoes?

There's a good reason.

Share the knowledge!
play_circle_filled replay

DIY Fire Tornado

You can actually make one at home (but be careful, please).

Share the knowledge!
play_circle_filled replay

A more curious you.

Join millions of lifelong learners