WATCH: Wildfire Causes Ominous ‘Smokenado’

by Amy Myers

It sounds like something out of a horror movie… or maybe a sequel in the Sharknado franchise, but it is very possible that a “smokenado” forms as a result of a wildfire.

Evidence of this natural phenomenon occurred in Vila Real, Portugal after a wildfire had taken over a portion of the grassy hillside of the nearby Alvão mountains. Add some strong winds to the equation, and the smoke quickly spiraled into a funnel shape, creating a truly chilling effect.

A witness in Portugal caught the strange effect on camera, zooming into the dark tunnel as it rose miles into the sky. All the while, bright orange flames still danced around the perimeter of the smokenado, posing an even more dangerous situation for responding fire crews.

Despite the double disaster, though, local media sources reported that the wildfire is now under control.

Take a look at the strange “tornado” below.

In actuality, the smokenado doesn’t pose any threat of leaving the area and continuing to wreak havoc across the landscape. The smoke twister forms as warm air rise and meets a cold patch, creating an eddy that allows the smoke to swirl.

Fire in California Results in Similar Twister as Portugal Wildfire

A similar phenomenon happened in August in Gorman, California when a “firenado” formed as a result of a brush fire near Highway 138. Similar to the wildfire in Portugal, the flames of the Golden State fire formed in columns and reached high into the air. And with the right wind, a funnel once again formed.

The California firenado turned out to be a part of the Sam Fire which quickly reached 150 acres before fire crews gained back control, using both ground and air tactics. The footage of the firenado was the result of an aerial team responding to the flames.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), these smoke and fire funnels (otherwise known as “fire whirls”) tend to average 33 to 100 feet tall and have wind speeds of between 20 and 60 miles per hour. While larger whirls can reach 500 feet in diameter, smaller ones can only be a couple of feet wide.

That said, these creations can make the flames act unpredictably and can put firefighters and crews in even more dangerous circumstances.

“One of the most interesting phenomenon that can occur in the fire environment is the Fire Whirl,” NOAA technician David Goens said. “It is also one of the unusual factors that has been responsible for the rapid spread of many wildfires and prescribed fires that were considered safely contained or uncontrolled. When a fire whirl develops inside the fireline, all models for predicting rates of spread or intensity collapse. It is a phenomenon that forms in a fragile environment, but once formed can be a seIf-perpetuating ogre.