Following the aftermath of the Canberra bushfires of 2003, rumours started to emerge of a fire tornado occurring during the height of the fire behaviour on the 18th of January.
A photo also emerged showing a very large tornado shaped column within smoke of the fires, however there was some doubt that it was a tornado and most thought it was more likely a column of smoke.
A fire tornado, or pyro-tornadogenesis, is not the same as fire twirls or fire willy willies, often seen on the fire ground which are caused by the heat of the fire. A fire tornado is a true tornado created by atmospheric conditions just like a standard tornado.
The scientific community had theorised that it was possibly for fire tornados to exist, however there had never been any proof of such an event occurring.
On November the 12th 2012 researchers confirmed that after reviewing large amounts of information collected of the Canberra bushfires, that a fire tornado did occur during the fires. It was the first confirmation of such an event world wide.
The findings were published in the scientific journal Natural Hazards.
Researchers determined that the fire tornado formed in the mid afternoon on the 18th of January 2003, in the column of smoke from the McInyres Hut Fire. It crossed the Brindabella Ranges, next to Mt Coree and then moved through the Pierces Creek and Uriarra Pine Plantations. It then slightly impacted the edge of the suburb of Chapman before reducing in intensity as it entered Kambah just south of Mt Taylor.
Researchers found that the fire tornado had a rating of at least an F2 with horizontal winds greater than 250km/h and vertical winds inside the tornado greater than 150km/h. This had a major effect on the Canberra bushfires‘ behaviour near the urban edge and had enough force to blow cars off the road and remove roofs from houses.
Below is footage of the Canberra fire tornado