An awe-struck filmmaker has told of the moment he witnessed one of nature’s rarest phenomena – a fire tornado.
Chris Tangey had been out in Alice Springs scouting locations for a new movie.
After finishing he went over to help workers at a cattle station when he was confronted by one of nature’s most intimidating spectacles.
Just 300 metres away was a 30-metre high fire swirl which “sounded like a fighter jet”, despite there being no wind in the area.
A fire tornado, also know as a fire devil, is caused when a column of warm, rising air comes into contact – or causes – a fire on the ground.
These fire whirls are known to last for around two minutes on the very rare occasions they take place.
But Chris found himself mesmerised by the tornado for more than 40 minutes.
The 52-year-old said: “The weather was perfectly still and it was about 25 degrees celsius – it was an entirely uneventful day.
“Then the next thing a man is yelling ‘what the hell is that?’ and I turned around and saw a 30-metre fire tornado.
“I was about 300 metres away and there was no wind but the tornado sounded just like a fighter jet. My jaw just dropped.”
Chris, who runs Alice Springs Film and Television, described it as a “once in ten lifetimes experience”.
He added: “I’ve been shooting in the outback for 23 years and I have never seen anything like it. We’ve heard about them but they’re never seen.
“If I had known what was about to happen then I would have happily paid $1,000 to watch it.
“At any time there were three different tornadoes, it just kept going and going for 40 minutes.
“The whole experience was staggering and the length and variety were astonishing.”
Although they are rare, these spectacles are extremely dangerous.
In 1923, a fire whirl emerged during Japan’s Great Kanto Earthquake and killed 38,000 people in just 15 minutes.
by David Livingstone