back to article First FIRE TORNADO documented in Australia

A fire in Australia grew so powerful that it spawned a tornado nearly 500 metres wide, contributing to the destruction of more than 500 homes. The documentation of the tornado is said to be important because while columns of flame known as “fire whirls” have previously been observed, full-scale tornadoes caused by fire are …


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  1. Martin Budden Bronze badge

    I was living just a short walk from the section marked ‘FT’ and I was at home when the fire arrived (preparing my house and yard for the approaching fire). I can assure everyone that yes there was a fire tornado, and yes the fire was generating multiple bolts of lightning just above street-light level. There was no sky, it was pitch black because the smoke was so thick, the only light was from the trees all around exploding into flame and the flashes of lightning. It felt like the apocalypse had arrived. I will never forget that day.

    In addition to many houses being burned down by fire, there is no doubt that the strong wind destroyed some houses: it ripped their roofs off and flattened their brick walls. The day after the fire I walked around the area and found the roof from one of the houses shown in the article's picture had landed on the other side of Mount Arawang. Here is a link to the latest Google Maps satellite image of the same area, showing how the houses have been rebuilt now.

    1. Martin Budden Bronze badge


    2. Autonomous Cowherd


      That sounds awesome, and terrifying. Thanks for sharing.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Jesus, Martin... that's nuts. I mean, that's kind of trite, but what else are you going to say to a guy who was in the middle of something like that?

      In other news... Australia: if the giant bugs and poisonous snakes don't get you, the lightning-spewing fire tornado will. If it isn't one thing, it's another, isn't it?

    4. Anonymous Coward

      Ahhh the day after.....

      "I know, lets invite the neighours around and have a BBQ - can someone bring the wood, ours has all gone."

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Fire whirl"

    Ahhh Australians, so laid back.

  3. tkioz

    While Fire Tornadoes have been know for sometime (Japan in the 1920s for example) there had never been any documented or conclusive scientific proof of their existence, so this paper is of great significance.

    Plus you know... it's a freaking FIRE TORNADO...

    1. -tim

      I believe the University of Oklahoma has some radar signatures for fire tornadoes that influenced the construction of their new weather radar called OU-PRIME which is 3 generations newer than any government weather radar and 5 to 6 generations newer than the radar run by the BOM.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Too bad

    it didn't finish the job and get the pollies

  5. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

    Anyone else..

    remember when places like Australia and California amongst others used to have regular burn-backs? I recall it was to reduce the chance they would fires of this magnitude simply because there wasn't the buildup of readily combustible brush etc over such large areas. Did they stop 'to preserve the environment' or because there was no proof it was working?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Anyone else..

      They stopped that because the green movement in Australia has a voice which is allowed by politicians to outweigh common sense... one of the same issues that led to the so called Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009.

    2. Martin Budden Bronze badge

      Re: Anyone else..

      We have regular "hazard reduction burns" these days.

      Canberra has also set up "Community Fire Units" which are groups of locals who live along the urban fringe who have been trained and equipped by the full-time Fire Service to fight fires as they arrive. I was a member of my local CFU until a few years ago when I moved to a different area further from the fringe. CFU members are issued with full protective clothing and equipment, plus standpipes, firehoses, pumps, rakes, etc etc. They are have been properly trained, and practise using the equipment as a team once a month.

  6. Sean Houlihane


    Increased fires are a direct result of changes in woodland management, I thought everyone understood this even if the rule-makers choose to ignore it.

  7. Wombling_Free

    Flying trees

    A friend of mine nearly lost his house during the fires, and told me of seeing fully grown, burning Radiata pines being thrown through the air. He was lucky to make it out of his street - every house in it was destroyed except his. He cites his frantic planting of lots of non-native, non-flammable plants in his garden. When I first saw his new house in about 2000 I can remember commenting that the pine plantation was a bit close for comfort - we grew up in the bushland northern suburbs of Sydney, so we are well acquainted with big fires and fire tornados.

    As for back-burning - it is still carried out in Australia, despite what the Anti-Enviro-Nuts claim; the problem with the Canberra fire was a whopping great commercial pine plantation full of extremely flammable trees that DON'T get back burned because they are a farm. The said plantation was slap-bang in the middle of Canberras youngest suburbs.... what could possibly go wrong?

    There was also some woeful management of the progenitor fire that had been burning in wilderness (and there is some seriously inaccessible country down there) for a week with little or no monitoring from people who should have been doing their jobs properly. That combined with the usual Australian State vs Local vs ACT 'It's on YOUR turf' buck-passing, and an almost total lack of civil warning systems or even civil training for bushfire defense. A few years later in 2009 it all happened again in Victoria and we lost 173 lives.

    What continues to amaze me is the utter lack of airborne firefighting assets we have here. Every year the news goes on about how Elvis the fucking helicopter is here again - I think Australia leases TWO SkyCranes to defend the entire Eastern seaboard during summer. Why we don't have a fleet of Hercs or Martin Mars firebombers is one of the reasons we are called Austfailia, I guess. When you hear the news say fire-bombing helicopters, they mean Hughes 500s lifting about a bathtub-full; which mostly evaporates when dropped on a flame-front.

    At least we know how to flood-proof our cities, eh? oh... wait.... no we don't.....

    1. Obvious Robert
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Flying trees

      "Every year the news goes on about how Elvis the fucking helicopter is here again"

      Whoa... rewind there a second! I want to know more about Elvis the fucking helicopter!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Flying trees

        In all his glory:

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Flying trees

        "I want to know more about Elvis the fucking helicopter!"

        With a name like 'Elvis the Fucking Helicopter' I'd think they wouldn't have a shortage of new ones entering service...

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Flying trees

      "plantation was slap-bang in the middle of Canberras youngest suburbs"

      Sounds like the plantation was there first and some stupid people decided to build houses next to it, much like people build a house at the end of a runway and then complain about airport noise.

    3. charvolant

      Re: Flying trees

      We don't use fixed wing aircraft because they need a place to pick up water. Something like a large lake, a convenient sea or a nice airport with a massive pump attached. These are a bit in short supply in Australia. A helicopter can pick up relatively quickly from a dam or a river and fly back to the fray.

      Airborne stuff is good but it just knocks the fire down, slowing it up and allowing ground-based firefighters to then stop the fire before it gets its breath back. I'm part of the NSW RFS near Canberra and helped try to contain the 2003 fire on the NSW side ... and then fought it around the ACT when it didn't work. During that time Elvis dropped its full load in front of me, for which I will ever be thankful. It was really odd watching the fire spring up again afterwards, like a fallen bull pick itself up, shake itself and continue charging.

      Incidentally, the whole point of using water on a fire is to get it to evaporate. Water has an absolutely stonking latent heat of evaporation and just sucks heat out as it turns to steam. One of the problems with airbourne water use is that it's quite an inefficient use of it. Although being able to deliver a nice lot of overkill is sometimes just what one wants.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One of the scariest days of my life... I would be very happy if it were the last one like that.

  9. Stevie Silver badge


    Wouldn't "all the trimmings" of a thunderstorm include torrential rain?

    Anyway, one thing we have lots of here in the USA is large fires. Can't say that thunderstorms have been prominent in any of the ones in recent history so "can cause" probably means "rarely cause".

    I doubt you need a thunderstorm to get a tornado going in a big fire anyway. The fierce updraft in the fire would supply the energy, and eventually the wind will start twisting due to pressure gradients in the flame column.

    1. Galidron

      Re: Bah!

      "Wouldn't "all the trimmings" of a thunderstorm include torrential rain?"

      Simple answer. No. Thunderstorms don't require any rain at all, just lightning. Also, in conditions like this if there was rain it would be quite likely for it to evaporate before reaching the ground.

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