Warm air above the fire is lighter than the surrounding air so it rises; the swirling pillar of lifting air above the fire is called a thermal column. This tornado-like structure is responsible for a firestorm’s power. Under the right weather conditions, air can rise inside the column at eye-watering speeds of 270 kilometres (170 miles) per hour!
Cooler air gusts into the space left behind by the ascending air, causing violent winds that merge fires together into a single intense entity. They also blow in oxygen, wood and other flammable material that serve to fuel and intensify the blaze.
Turbulent air spiralling around the thermal column can spawn fire tornadoes and throw out sparks. These can set light to trees and houses tens of metres away, increasing the conflagration’s range.