There are some phenomena in this world that certainly don’t seem like they could be of earthly origins. Many manifestations of such natural wonder are therefore often attributed to the work of gods. For example – pillars of fire. Surely the formation of a colossal column of fire couldn’t be a natural occurrence? Well, that’s what was believed in the age of the Old Testament. A tale within Exodus describes the aftermath of the Israelites within the Egyptian historical era: the Israelites were enslaved to the Pharaohs, but led by Moses, achieved freedom and managed to escape, leading to the famous paring of the Red Sea. However, according to scripture, they were not able to do this without the aid of a pillar of fire: this allowed the Israelites to escape at the dead of night, the light leading them to freedom. This pillar of fire was believed to the created by God, and was present in their march to freedom from slavery. If you were in the situation that the Israelites were in, and escape was imminent, the formation of such a wonder would truly be considered a miracle.
Once thought to be a rare sight, these pillars of fire, better known now as “fire whirls”, are a far more common occurrence in the natural world that previously believed. Known by various names – fire tornado, fire twister, and even fire devil – fire whirls are whirlwinds of fire that form from the combination of flame and wind; this seems quite apparent from their name.
It is fair to assume that this combination extremities could cause some serious damage. Common instances of the fire whirl usually grow to 3 ft wide and 100ft tall. However, it is believed that with the correct circumstances, the greatest fire whirls have stretched to 30 ft wide and risen to over 1000 ft into the air! Some of the most notable skyscrapers in the world (such as the Empire State) only just reach that height, which really puts into perspective how terrifying these can be. They can also pack heat, reaching temperatures of 2000 Fahrenheit. While these pillars are spinning at speeds of around 100 miles per hour (which could easily destroy trees and small buildings), the ash from the ground is being sucked up into the tornado, and the whirl’s immense heat means that the ash can be potentially reignited, therefore increasing the ferocity of the juggernaut. They are a force to be reckoned with: the phenomenon can last up to an hour, and fire fighters are more or less helpless when it comes to ceasing the plight they cause – they cannot be extinguished like a usual fire, due to the rare weather pattern that has attached itself to the flames, so have to be managed carefully until they dissipate.
There are plenty of known examples of fire whirls in the last 100 years. It had previously been assumed that they rarely form, but it has since been clarified that they happen fairly regularly – it is just that they are seldom witnessed or formally recorded. Thankfully, they only last for around 20 minutes, so it is understandable that they may go on unnoticed. The most destructive account of a fire whirl comes from Japan in 1923. The Great Kantō earthquake devastated the island of Honshu, and took way over 100,000 lives. It is believed that during the chaos, fire tornados ripped through the regions around Tokyo and took just under 40,000 lives within a 15-minute period. More recently, in the 21st Century, there have been various sightings. They are not a weather phenomenon that is limited to a particular climate or region: notable sightings recently include Asia, U.S.A., and the United Kingdom. One fire tornado appeared at Curtin Springs, located in the Northern Territory of Australia: this occurrence was notable as it is one of the best examples that has been filmed and accounted for. You can easily find it on YouTube. It is certainly worth a watch – the ferocity it perfectly captured in ways that words can simply not describe.
It is very apparent why fire devils own such a nickname, and so too is it apparent why people may have believed that they were a formation of God. It is an ordeal that I am sure we would all be relieved to NOT be on the wrong side of in our lives, but I cannot help but think that it would be a magnificent marvel to witness in real life, if given the chance (and a safe distance!) Since Moses and the Israelites were led to safety by a great pillar of fire, fire tornados have been rationally explained, but they will certainly still maintain a mysterious reputation as one of the lesser known and lesser witnessed occurrences of the natural world.