<p><b>Firefighters watch a "fire tornado" wreathed with dust and smoke as it swirls on the south slope of <a href="http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/united-states/hawaii-guide/" id="olx_" title="Hawaii">Hawaii</a>'s Mauna Kea volcano Sunday. The fiery column was spawned during a 1,400-acre (566-hectare) brush fire triggered by regional drought.</b></p><p> Also known as fire whirls, fire devils, or even firenados, these whirlwinds of flame are not really rare, just rarely documented, said <a href="http://www.firelab.org/staff-directory/13" id="ki79" title="Jason Forthofer">Jason Forthofer</a>, a mechanical engineer at the U.S. Forest Services's Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory in Montana.</p><p>For instance, fire tornadoes were recently reported in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, where a three-month long drought has also led to several brush fires.</p><p> Forthofer studies fire tornadoes with the aim of protecting firefighters.</p><p> "If we can identify conditions that are conducive to fire whirls, that would be a heads-up for firefighters, because there have been some [people] that have been burned by them," he said.</p><p><i>—Ker Than</i></p>

Hawaii Fire Tornado

Firefighters watch a "fire tornado" wreathed with dust and smoke as it swirls on the south slope of Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano Sunday. The fiery column was spawned during a 1,400-acre (566-hectare) brush fire triggered by regional drought.

Also known as fire whirls, fire devils, or even firenados, these whirlwinds of flame are not really rare, just rarely documented, said Jason Forthofer, a mechanical engineer at the U.S. Forest Services's Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory in Montana.

For instance, fire tornadoes were recently reported in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, where a three-month long drought has also led to several brush fires.

Forthofer studies fire tornadoes with the aim of protecting firefighters.

"If we can identify conditions that are conducive to fire whirls, that would be a heads-up for firefighters, because there have been some [people] that have been burned by them," he said.

—Ker Than

Photograph courtesy Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

Fire-Tornado Pictures: Why They Form, How to Fight Them

Recent "firenadoes" in Brazil and Hawaii aren't rare, just rarely reported, an expert says: Large-scale versions occur once a year in the U.S.

Read This Next

See 100 years of the Lincoln Memorial in photos
Next-gen weather station installed near Everest’s summit
Hard hit by COVID-19, Black Americans are recovering slowly

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet