Lillooet fire tornado caught on camera by BC Wildfire Service

Shocking footage of a tornado swirling in a raging wildfire taken near Lillooet, B.C. on Aug. 17. The BC Wildfire Service says this happens when a cold front meets the heat of a wildfire.

The BC Wildfire Service says its crews captured a fire tornado on video this past week near the Downton Lake wildfire, west of Lillooet.

In the video, a swirling vortex can be seen twisting above a lake as the mainland burns behind it.

The service says it happened at Gun Lake on Aug. 17. The phenomenon, also called a “fire whirl,” is described as “vertically oriented, intensely rotating columns of gas and flame.”

It was said to be caused by a cold front that combined with the intense wildfire heat from the Downton Lake blaze.

“This was a significant drop, 20C lower than the day prior to the cold front. With this combination of conditions and fire behaviour, fire intensity was more extreme during this overnight period, reaching intensities that hadn’t been seen even during the day,” the service said.

The BC Wildfire Service adds tornados like this are incredibly rare and unusual.

“These unique conditions and extreme fire behaviour are not experienced on the majority of fires in B.C.,” the service said.

The first known, and verified, fire tornado occurred in Australia during the 2002-2003 Canberra bushfires, which killed four people, injured almost 500, and razed 470 homes.

Previous to this verification, small fire whirls were known to happen, however, a larger tornado-like weather phenomenon had not yet been recorded.

“Fire tornadoes are more of that, the larger version of a fire whirl, and they are really the size and scale of a regular tornado,” Jason Forthofer, a firefighter and mechanical engineer at the U.S. Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Lab in Montana, told Montana Public Radio in 2021.

More recently, fire tornados have been seen in California and Nevada wildfires.

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