'Incredibly rare' phenomenon caught on camera during wildfires

The rare event was captured as firefighters were responding to another incident nearby.

Footage has emerged of what experts are calling an "incredibly rare phenomenon" at a lake surrounded by Canada's devastating wildfires.

The formation of a fire whirl, also known as a fire tornado, was captured at Gun Lake in British Columbia by wildfire service respondents last Thursday, who were battling the Downtown Lake fire nearby.

The vortex-like event swept across the lake in the early hours of the morning when a cold front hit between 3am and 6am, "following several days of hot, dry weather".

Two photos of a fire whirl, also known as a fire tornado, captured in British Columbia, Canada.
Footage of a rare phenomenon called a fire whirl, or fire tornado, captured in British Columbia, Canada. Source: Twitter/BC Wildfire Service

How is it caused?

Due to the sudden strong winds, low relative humidity and the dew point [a measure of how much moisture is in the air] dropping 20C from the day before, there was a "significant fire growth and intensity", the BC Wildfire Service shared on its Twitter account. This led to the "incredibly rare phenomenon".

"Fire whirls are vertically oriented, intensely rotating columns of gas and flame," the fire service explained.

"As shown in the video, the combination of high fire intensity, strong winds and air mass instability resulted in the formation of a fire whirl (otherwise known as a fire tornado) over Gun Lake.

"These unique conditions and extreme fire behaviour are not experienced on the majority of fires in B.C."

Have fire tornados occurred in Australia?

Although rare, the phenomenon has been recorded in Australia — with a particularly fiery one being documented going 160 miles per hour during the 2003 Canberra bushfires.

Another was seen near the NSW and Victoria border at the small town of Jingellic, causing a volunteer firefighter to die after a truck crashed during the destructive bushfires in December, 2019.

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