Fire Whirl Forms in Sonoma County’s Kincade Fire

As the Kincade Fire torched swaths of Sonoma County, California Thursday morning, a menacing flaming spiral stretched skyward while a nearby bystander looked on.

The moment was captured in a striking photograph by Kent Porter, a photojournalist with the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

You’re looking at a weather phenomenon known as a fire whirl, per CNN Weather. And yeah, they’re actually a thing, typically occurring when hot, dry air near the ground rises rapidly in a column, forming a vortex.

They should not to be confused with fire tornadoes, which are even bigger and more terrifying. Last year, a massive fire tornado claimed the lives of a firefighter and bulldozer driver battling the Carr Fire.

The difference between a fire whirl and a fire tornado (or firenado) mainly has to do with size, according to CNN meteorologist Judson Jones.

“A firenado is more like the size of a tornado,” Jones said, “while a fire whirl is a smaller spin up, like a dust devil.”

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.