Crews working on a wildfire in Canada’s British Columbia captured stunning footage of a rare ‘fire tornado.’ The video has been posted on X and other social media handles of BC Wildfire Service and shows a giant vortex of flame swirling in the night sky in Gun Lake north of Pemberton. It is a natural phenomenon called a fire devil, firenado, or fire twister and occurs when intense rising heat and wind conditions combine to create a whirling spiral. The BC Wildfire Service warns that such occurrences present a significant safety hazard, and it is best to avoid them.
NPR’s Joe Hernandez notes that documentation of fire whirls and other wildfire-related phenomena is rising. However, it needs to be clarified whether that’s because they are becoming more frequent or because people are noticing them more frequently and taking the time to record them. One such video, shot in 2012 by filmmaker Chris Tangey, has racked up more than 2.5 million views on YouTube.
Tangey’s video shows a red-orange braid of flame twisted nearly 100 feet in the air. It’s a breathtaking sight and a reminder that such vortices — part beauty, part beast — are best appreciated from a distance. But, as with all wildfires, fire whirls pose dangers. They can sweep down the sides of a fire and catch firefighters in its path, or they can turn into deadly rolling columns of flame.
While it’s common for the sky to turn orange and yellow with smoke in parts of Canada, this summer has been particularly wild. For example, on June 29, the tiny town of Lytton in British Columbia set a new record high temperature for the country, surpassing a mark held for 84 years. It was also hotter than anything recorded in the United States outside of Death Valley and even hotter than any location in Europe or South America.
In addition to the extreme heat, lightning storms have been kicking up across the province. The North American Lightning Detection Network reported 710,000 strikes between 3 p.m. Wednesday and 6 a.m. Thursday is a massive jump from the usual number of strikes in that period.
As a result of the weather conditions, some residents who live near Kelowna were forced to evacuate their homes. One woman who did so told reporters that she had to leave her house with just the clothes on her back and felt like she was leaving behind a piece of herself.
Premier Brad Wall warned residents that evacuation orders aren’t taken lightly and that people who ignore them could be risking their lives if they don’t have an emergency plan in place. He toured the Shuswap, Kamloops, and Kelowna earlier this week with emergency management minister Bowinn Ma and foresters to hear what’s happening. He also addressed the broader issue of climate change and how it may be worsening wildfires.