May 16th, 2014
10:22 AM ET

'Firenadoes' Explained

Historical drought conditions and recent record heat has contributed to destructive wildfires in Southern California.

As at least six fires currently rage in the San Diego area and more than 10,000 acres of land burns, CNN's Indra Petersons explains the wild weather phenomena of "firenadoes."


A firenado, as unrealistic as it sounds, is not that uncommon.

It is a spinning column of burning debris and gas with very high winds.

A firenado is not a real tornado due to how it forms, but it can be a terrifying sight in a wildfire.

Firenadoes form more similar to dust devils or whirlwinds in that they do not come from large, severe thunderstorms.

But they can be as damaging as a tornado, packing winds as strong as 120 mph.

Because of these conditions, firefighters cannot combat the firenado flame directly.

Watch Petersons explain the flame funnels above, and for more on this continuing story visit


"Fire makes a roar like a lion" – See two men describe the chaotic scene they filmed as wildfires blaze through California:  


READ:  'Unprecedented' wildfires, fierce winds lead to 'firenadoes' in California

READ:  Bone dry + brutal heat + gusty winds = unseasonably early wildfires

READ:  Wildfires Fast Facts

READ:  Tornadoes Fast Facts

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