Watch: Lake fire spawns ‘terrifying’ fire tornado as it burns through Angeles National Forest

VIDEO | 01:23
Lake fire spawned flame tornado

Hours after the massive Lake fire exploded in the Angeles National Forest near the 5 Freeway on Wednesday, the blaze exhibited extreme and alarming behavior, at one point forming a tornado-like flaming vortex.

Though such a phenomenon — commonly referred to as a fire tornado or fire whirl — is not unprecedented in California, it demonstrates the intensity with which the fire burned as it quickly grew to more than 10,000 acres.

The National Weather Service characterized the event as “an impressive and terrifying example of extreme fire behavior, when the fire is so hot it creates rotation, along with very strong updrafts and pyrocumulus.”


Video of the incident elicited stunned reactions on social media, with some Twitter users remarking that a flaming twister was a fitting chapter in a year where the news of the day had at times more resembled something out of science fiction.

While crews continue to battle raging wildfires in San Diego County, many on social media have been highlighting the tornado-like flaming vortexes captured in photos from the front lines.

Fire whirls can occur when trees, a hillside or wall of flames force air to shift or rotate among competing air temperatures and speeds. Eventually, it tilts the rotating air from a horizontal position to a vertical one, giving it a tornado-like appearance.

Not only shocking to behold, but fire whirls also possess incredible destructive capacity. Scientists estimate they burn fuel three to seven times faster than an open flame.

As the 2018 Carr fire burned in Shasta County, it spawned a fire tornado that was roughly 1,000 feet in diameter and reached speeds up to 165 mph.

The Lake fire in the Angeles National Forest started near the 5 Freeway and rapidly spread, moving toward several small communities west of Lancaster.

The Lake fire started in the Angeles National Forest near the 5 Freeway shortly after 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

As of Thursday morning, the blaze had scorched 10,500 acres and destroyed three structures. More than 5,000 buildings remain threatened, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Evacuations and road closures are in place in the area.

“This will be a major fire for several days,” Angeles National Forest Fire Chief Robert Garcia said during a news conference.