We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.
Physics

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

What is a Firestorm?

Michael Anissimov
By
Updated: May 21, 2024

A firestorm is a huge fire created when flames are so intense that they create and sustain their own wind system. Depending on the stack effect, also known as the chimney effect, the heat of the fire creates such a strong updraft that adjacent air is strongly drawn in, creating fierce winds that blows towards the center of the fire. A firestorm is especially likely to occur where there are gulf stream winds feeding it, or the temperature inversion layer is pierced by hot air from the fire. Firestorms are likely to occur whenever there is a sufficiently large fire.

Well-known firestorms have occurred both in natural conditions, such as the Great Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin, or the Ash Wednesday fires in southeast Australia, and artificial conditions, such as in the aerial bombings of Hamburg, Dresden, and Tokyo or the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One might think that the wind traveling towards the center of the fire would prevent it from being spread outwards, but this is not the case. The extreme turbulence caused around the flame front makes it possible for the fire to spread. Often, fire tornadoes, known as flame whirls, form in the chaotic turbulence, darting around erratically and setting everything in their path on fire. During the firebombing of Dresden, a huge fire tornado incinerated over 30,000 people gathered in a city square within 15 minutes. Firestorms in Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused many deaths after the initial explosion.

There are several warning signs that point to the genesis of a firestorm in wildfire conditions. These include decreased visibility, decreased sound conduction, difficulties breathing, and the instantaneous roasting (pyrolysis) of leaves at a distance from the main fire. There are several main types of firestorm in a wildfire context. These include 1) a thermal bubble, where dense foliage in a small valley catches fire and creates a bubble of hot gas that cannot merge with the air above it due to its great heat, 2) fire carpets, where the entire floor of a wide and open valley catches fire, 3) confinement by a layer of cold air, similar to a thermal bubble but it can happen anywhere, where cold air prevents pyrolysis-released gases from rising, creating a "powder keg" that eventually explodes, 4) pyrolysis of an opposing slope, where a fire on one slope initiates spontaneous combustion all across an opposing slope, despite being separated by hundreds of feet, and 5) a firestorm at the bottom of a small valley, where pyrolysis-released gases coalesce in a river bed and are spontaneously ignited when the fire reaches it.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.

Related Articles

Discussion Comments
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
Learn more
Share
All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.