What caused this ‘fire tornado’?

Natalie Richards and Tom ZaunmayrThe West Australian
VideoA fire whirl or ‘fire tornado’ is caught on camera in the State’s North West. Credit: Department of Parks and Wildlife

The “fire tornado” seen tearing through bush at Giralia Station near Exmouth this week was one of few to be caught on camera, authorities say.

Danny Robinson’s incredible footage of the phenomenon - known as a fire whirl - generated worldwide headlines this week after he captured the footage while working as a caretaker on the station on Monday.

This week, footage from a Department of Parks and Wildlife officer, featuring the menacing roar of the flames, also emerged.

The flames are seen being whipped into the sky in an unusual twister-style motion.

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.


Department of Parks and Wildlife fire scientist Neil Burrows said the fire whirls usually lasted only minutes so footage is rare.

He said the fire whirls were caused when columns of hot air quickly rose into the atmosphere.

“The thinner the column, the faster the wind,” Dr Burrows said.

“Think of how figure skaters draw their arms and legs in tight to their body, causing them to spin faster.”

“The wind that is fanning the fire then causes the columns to twist like a miniature hurricane or tornado, generating speeds of up to 160km/h.”

In the footage captured this week, fire crews are seen standing only metres away from the fire whirl.

Mr Robinson said the force of the tornado ripped shrubs out of the ground.

“I’ve seen fire whirls on TV and I’ve seen them on catalyst and so on but to see one yourself and then capture it is just awesome,” he said.

“The whirl was really loud even from four kilometres away.”

Karratha recorded more than 210mm of rain in 24 hours to 9am on February 9, the second wettest day on record for the town.

Giralia Station recorded 69mm of rain on Thursday and Friday.

VideoFire tornado on Giralia Station. Video taken by Danny Robinson

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails