Fire Tornado Sweeps Through Aracatuba, Brazil

August 26, 2010 Updated: August 26, 2010

Regular tornadoes are terrible enough, but a fire tornado? Caused by brush fires and fierce winds, the rare phenomenon burned through dry fields yesterday in Aracatuba, Brazil. As quickly s it struck, it departed, leaving behind a trail of ashes.

Fire tornadoes, also called fire whirls and fire devils, form depending “on certain air temperatures and currents to create a vertical, rotating column of air,” according to Sky News. Simply put, they occur when a spinning updraft of warm air collides with a fire.

The Brazil fire tornado burst into being when dry brush ignited after three months of drought. It burned hundreds of acres, and halted traffic on a nearby highway as spectators stopped to stare at the vortex of fire.

Most fire tornadoes measure between 30 and 200 feet wide, and last a few minutes. Larger ones can gain over half a mile of height, have a windspeed of over 100 miles per hour, and last for longer than 20 minutes, reported Most of these longer-lasting whirls are created during wildfires.

The largest recorded fire tornado ignited after the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake in Tokyo, Japan. The quake lit a fire tornado the size of a large city, and ended the lives of 38,000 people in 15 minutes. The effects of the Tokyo fire tornado were so severe because most of Tokyo at that time was built out of wood.