A ‘firenado’ or fire whirl is a whirlwind induced by a fire. Fire whirls may occur when intense rising heat and turbulent wind conditions combine to form whirling eddies of air. These eddies can contract into a tornado-like structure that sucks in burning debris and combustible gases. Combustible, carbon-rich gases released by burning vegetation on the ground are fuel for most fire whirls.
Real-world fire whirls usually move fairly slowly. They can set objects in their paths ablaze and can hurl burning debris out into their surroundings. The winds generated by a fire whirl can also be dangerous. Large fire whirls can create wind speeds of more than 100 mph- strong enough to knock down trees. They can also last for an up to an hour or more, and they cannot be extinguished directly.
Check out this video of a “firenado” in Australia shot by Chris Tangey in 2012
Recently, in the news, we have heard about a couple of science experiments “gone wrong”. During a science demonstration at the Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum in Reno, Nevada one of their routine science experiments turned drastic when a methyl alcohol and boric acid mixture was used during an exhibition known as the “fire tornado” to create a whirling effect. The experiment went horribly wrong when the alcohol was added at the inappropriate time and caused an explosion and a plume of fire. The fire reached the students that were observing the experiment and they suffered burns on their legs, arms, toes, and faces.
Chairperson, Rafael Moure-Eraso of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued a warning against the use of methanol during laboratory and classroom combustion demonstrations. The warning states:
“Today I am calling on all schools, museums, and science educators to discontinue any use of bulk methanol—or other similar flammables—in lab demonstrations that involve combustion, open flames, or ignition sources. There are safer alternative ways to demonstrate the same scientific phenomena, and many teachers are already using them. Any use of methanol or other flammables should be either avoided completely or restricted to minimal amounts, which have been safely dispensed at remote locations. Bulk containers of flammable liquids must never be positioned or handled near viewing audiences, especially when there are potential ignition sources present.”
High Touch High Tech would like to let all their friends, teachers, parents, and students know that we only use safe, non-toxic, everyday materials and chemicals in all of our experiments! The safety of our students, teachers, parents and schools is our top priority!
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