Smokey the Bear is not kidding when he says only you can prevent forest fires. What you’re seeing above wasn’t started by a jet engine or a pyromaniac, but by somebody who lit a campfire and saw it get out of control. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, but it was a close call, and the firefighters nearly fell victim to a nasty quirk of physics.
Fire tornadoes, or fire whirls, are rare, but absurdly dangerous; beyond the fact that they are freaking columns of fire, they can produce winds of up to 100 miles an hour and chuck burning debris out of their cores and at bystanders a fair distance away. They’re formed when combustible gas is produced by burning vegetation without enough oxygen to ignite it. The combustible gas is sucked up until it hits some fresh air, and then ignites. And as you can see above, they form shockingly quickly.
The heat from this particular whirl was so intense that one of the firefighters jumped into the lake to survive the heat and get to safety. It ultimately wound up destroying 20 acres of Canadian brush, but everyone survived. It’s a good reminder to watch your campfire, lest you unleash another fire tornado on the world.