View of one of the Tillamook Burn fires in August 1933.

A firestorm is a conflagration which attains such intensity that it creates and sustains its own wind system. It is most commonly a natural phenomenon, created during some of the largest bushfires and wildfires. Although the term has been used to describe certain large fires,[1] the phenomenon's determining characteristic is a fire with its own storm-force winds from every point of the compass.[2][3] The Black Saturday bushfires and the Great Peshtigo Fire are possible examples of forest fires with some portion of combustion due to a firestorm, as is the Great Hinckley Fire. Firestorms have also occurred in cities, usually as a deliberate effect of targeted explosives, such as occurred as a result of the aerial firebombings of Hamburg, Dresden, firebombing of Tokyo and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.


Firestorm: fire (1), updraft (2), strong gusty winds (3) (A) pyrocumulonimbus cloud.

A firestorm is created as a result of the stack effect as the heat of the original fire draws in more and more of the surrounding air. This draft can be quickly increased if a low-level jet stream exists over or near the fire. As the updraft mushrooms, strong inwardly-directed gusty winds develop around the fire, supplying it with additional air. This would seem to prevent the firestorm from spreading on the wind, but the tremendous turbulence created may also cause the strong surface inflow winds to change direction erratically. Firestorms resulting from the bombardment of urban areas in the Second World War were generally confined to the areas initially seeded with incendiary devices, and the firestorm did not appreciably spread outward.[4] A firestorm may also develop into a mesocyclone and induce true tornadoes/fire whirls. This occurred with the 2002 Durango fire,[5] and probably with the much greater Peshtigo Fire.[6][7] The greater draft of a firestorm draws in greater quantities of oxygen, which significantly increases combustion, thereby also substantially increasing the production of heat. The intense heat of a firestorm manifests largely as radiated heat (infrared radiation), which may ignite flammable material at a distance ahead of the fire itself.[8][9][not in citation given] This also serves to expand the area and the intensity of the firestorm.[not in citation given] Violent, erratic wind drafts suck movables into the fire and as is observed with all intense conflagrations, radiated heat from the fire can melt asphalt, some metals, and glass, and turn street tarmac into flammable hot liquid. The very high temperatures ignite anything that might possibly burn, until the firestorm runs low on fuel.

A firestorm does not appreciably ignite material at a distance ahead of itself; more accurately, the heat desiccates those materials and makes them more vulnerable to ignition by embers or firebrands, increasing the rate of fire spotting. During the formation of a firestorm many fires merge to form a single convective column of hot gases rising from the burning area and strong, fire-induced, radial (inwardly directed) winds are associated with the convective column. Thus the fire front is essentially stationary and the outward spread of fire is prevented by the in-rushing wind.[10]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Vuurstorm
العربية: عاصفة نارية
български: Огнена буря
čeština: Ohnivá bouře
dansk: Ildstorm
Deutsch: Feuersturm
español: Tormenta ígnea
français: Tempête de feu
Bahasa Indonesia: Badai api
עברית: סופת אש
Bahasa Melayu: Ribut api
Nederlands: Vuurstorm
日本語: 火災旋風
norsk: Ildstorm
português: Tempestade ígnea
slovenščina: Ognjeni vihar
suomi: Tulimyrsky
svenska: Eldstorm
українська: Вогняний смерч
Tiếng Việt: Bão lửa
中文: 火災暴風