A filmmaker in central Australia has captured rare images of a fire devil, also called a fire tornado or fire whirl, and the photos have taken the Internet by storm. Chris Tangey, 52, who manages Alice Springs Film and Television, was scouting locations and was near an old cattle station in Uluru when he encountered the blaze, which spawned several fire devils.
It was a windless, uneventful day but a blaze was burning nearby. Suddenly, a man screamed out. Tangey turned and saw a fire tornado measuring 100-plus feet and roaring like “a fighter jet.” The sound carried even though Tangey was nearly 1,000 feet from the flaming twister.
Soon, other twisters formed. “It was a dance of giants in front of me. I’ve never seen anything like it; it was awe inspiring,” Tangey told 7 News Australia. “I saw a red tornado, a black one, a white one, and several made of pure fire.”
The images were grabbed from HD video footage, which is still under production. Tangey, however, posted a 4-minute YouTube video (see it above) on Tuesday, because of the demand.
He said 7 News obtained a one-day license to run some of the footage but the footage was uploaded by a YouTube user, Tangey said, in violation of copyright laws. Several publications have since picked it up. Tangey, who gave permission for the use of his images for this story, said the YouTube user has agreed to remove the video (see 7 News link above).
Fire devils, which are more like dust devils than actual tornadoes, are created by intense heat and whirling eddies of air. Once formed, they contain a core of flame and an invisible pocket of fresh air, which delivers oxygen to the core.
Tangey said via email that the parched region is covered with “a really flammable spiky grass which contains resins and oils that burn extremely hot.”
He added: “As this patch hadn’t burned for over 50 years, the theory is a buildup of resin created a super-heated fire which created its own weather.”
Tangey said the sky above the blaze turned a dense black, and added that sighting a fire devil is “extremely rare,” and that filming one is ever rarer. Fire devils can be extremely dangerous. In 1923, 38,000 people were killed in a matter of minutes by a fire devil that developed during Japan’s Great Kanto Earthquake.
Tangey is quoted in the Sun as saying, “I’ve been shooting in the outback for 23 years and I have never seen anything like it. We’ve heard about them but they’re never seen. The whole experience was staggering and the length and variety were astonishing.”
The images have been shared hundreds of times on various Facebook pages, most notably The Weather Channel Australia.
– Images are courtesy of Chris Tangey and protected by copyright laws