What a Firenado Is and How It Happens

PHOTO: A fire tornado comes close to homes during the Corona Fire on November 15, 2008 in Yorba Linda, California.
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Wildfires ravaging the West Coast have created the scary phenomenon of firenadoes — dangerous columns of flame that suck in debris and spew hot embers for miles around.

Firenadoes happen when ground-level winds come in contact with fire and whip it into the air, creating a shocking spiral of bright red and orange.

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PHOTO: A wildfire-induced tornado of hot ash dances across a ridgetop as the sun sets May 13, 2002 near Rancho Santa Margarita, CA.
David McNew/Getty Images
PHOTO: A wildfire-induced tornado of hot ash dances across a ridgetop as the sun sets May 13, 2002 near Rancho Santa Margarita, CA.

They’re an amazing sight but dangerous for firefighters, as the tunnels suck in burning debris and can spit embers miles away, enlarging a wildfire’s path of destruction.

Most firenadoes usually last only a couple minutes.

The phenomenon can happen with smoke, too, when spiraling wind creates a smokenado.

PHOTO: Smoke takes on the appearance of a colossal tornado as it rises from upper Borrego Palm Canyon in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near the boundary of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation August 7, 2002 west of Borrego Springs, California.
David McNew/Getty Images
PHOTO: Smoke takes on the appearance of a colossal tornado as it rises from upper Borrego Palm Canyon in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near the boundary of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation August 7, 2002 west of Borrego Springs, California.

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