A rare fire tornado was spotted recently in the Brazilian city of Aracatuba and was captured on video. Fire tornadoes, or fire whirls, ignite when a fire acquires a vertical rotating column of air. These weird weather events can be more than a half a mile tall and contain winds over 100 mph (161 kph). Fire whirls may be whirlwinds separated from the flames, or a vortex of flame, itself.
During the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake in Japan, a firestorm gave birth to a gigantic fire tornado that killed 38,000 people in 15 minutes in the Hifukusho-Ato region of Tokyo. Another large fire tornado formed near San Luis Obispo, Calif., in 1926, after lightning stuck an oil storage yard.
Most fire tornadoes form during wildfires and may reach up to 200 feet (50 meters) tall, 10 feet (3 m) wide, but typically die out after a few minutes. Some of the largest, however, can reach up to half a mile tall, last for over 20 minutes, and have been known to uproot giant trees.