Groundbreaking research: Scientists generate fire whirls in Twizel to safeguard firefighters from future wildfire devastation
For immediate release
22 May 2023
In a world first, scientists from Scion, US Forest Service, University of Canterbury’s School of Earth, and Environment and the US National Centre of Atmospheric Research (through a Fulbright Fellowship) have successfully generated fire whirls on slash piles near Twizel.
The activity is part of groundbreaking research aimed at protecting firefighters and communities from the devastating impact of future wildfire events.
Fire whirls/vortices, or fire tornados, occur during extreme wildfire events around the world but until this month, they have never been deliberately created in the field and at this scale.
The research team consists of New Zealand and international researchers studying extreme wildfire fire behaviour as part of a programme funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
Jason Forthofer, a researcher with the USDA Forest Service, is a leading expert on wildfire vortices who has been studying fire whirls in a laboratory environment. He says generating a fire vortex outside a laboratory had never been attempted at this scale and with forest fuels anywhere in the world before these experimental burns.