Original Paper

Natural Hazards

, Volume 65, Issue 3, pp 1801-1811

First online:

An Australian pyro-tornadogenesis event

  • Richard H. D. McRaeAffiliated withAustralian Capital Territory Emergency Services Agency Email author 
  • , Jason J. SharplesAffiliated withApplied and Industrial Mathematics Research Group, School of Physical, Environmental and Mathematical Sciences, University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy
  • , Stephen R. WilkesAffiliated withAustralian Capital Territory Parks and Conservation Service
  • , Alan WalkerAffiliated withAustralian Capital Territory Emergency Services Agency

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On 18 January 2003, fires had a devastating impact on Australia’s capital, Canberra. A series of reviews and scientific studies have examined the events of that day and indicate that the worst impacts were due to a series of violent pyro-convective events and resultant pyro-cumulonmibi. These coupled fire–atmosphere events are much more energetic than normal fires. In one instance, an intense pyro-convective cell developed a tornado. We demonstrate that this was indeed a tornado, the first confirmed pyro-tornadogenesis in Australia, and not a fire whirl. Here, we discuss aspects of the formation, evolution and decay of the tornado, which was estimated to have been of at least F2 intensity, highlighting a process that can significantly increase the damage of a wildfire event.


Pyro-tornadogenesis Pyro-cumulonimbus Tornado Wildfire