Did you know that I grew up in Illinois? Yup… the good ol’ Midwest. We don’t live with the threat of wildfire in that neck of the woods – our “gift” from Mother Nature comes in the form of a mighty whirlwind called a tornado. When I moved to Reno, I thought I had mostly escaped tornadoes … but did you know there is such a thing as a “fire tornado” … otherwise known as a “fire whirl”? This event, although rare, is highly destructive and occurs when a fire is whipped up by strong, hot, dry air currents to form a vertical whirl – literally creating a tornado full of fire! Their occurrence is not only visually spectacular but alerts firefighters of very unstable air and extreme fire behavior.
Fire whirls can uproot trees and can carry flaming debris great distances! Some of the largest fire whirls can be more than half a mile tall, produce winds over 100 mph and last for more than 20 minutes. Not surprisingly, these flaming tornadoes can ignite new fires by moving into unburned territory. Fire whirls are so threatening, that virtually all state forestry services include fire whirl basics in their training. I don’t know about you, but I am happy that I won’t have to deal with them anytime soon. It definitely helps me to appreciate my firefighters that much more and peaks my awareness level about MY part in being prepared for wildfires. Remember, that while our friend Smokey Bear says … only YOU can prevent wildfires, it is also true that only WE can prepare our homes for wildfire when it occurs. Check out how you can prepare your home for wildfire here!
Do you have any experiences with fire whirls? Please share your stories in the comments below!
About the Author: Jenny Digesti is the Assistant for the Living With Fire Program. You can follow her on twitter here.