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Idle Science

(Don't) Make Your Own Fire Tornado 86

Flash Modin writes "In the last two weeks, both water and fire tornadoes have been widely covered by the media. As any physicists would have, we immediately thought 'I want to do that!' SO... You should absolutely, under no circumstances, not attempt to recreate the following fire tornado; but if you did, here's exactly what you would need, how you would do it, and what it would look like."

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(Don't) Make Your Own Fire Tornado

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  • by johnhp ( 1807490 ) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @03:25PM (#33547204)
    The version in the story is too complicated, but there's an easier way. The catch is that it has to be really cold outside... I'd say at or below freezing.

    All you have to do is acquire a bottle of lighter fluid and a lighter. A zippo lighter works best. Spray a puddle of lighter fluid on cold pavement. Light the fluid (may take a while, it's difficult to ignite when cold). Once it's burning, stand back and spray a steady stream of lighter fluid into the flames. After a spray or two, a fire tornado will develop. I've made fire tornadoes that were an inch or two thick and at least ten feet tall.
    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @03:33PM (#33547288) Journal

      +5 Interesting but Insane

    • by Gibbs-Duhem ( 1058152 ) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @04:30PM (#33547712)

      Ah yes... I seem to remember this particular method resulting in second degree burns on two of my friends when the fire flashed back to the bottle of lighter fluid and exploded.

      Not recommended. Steady streams of flammable liquid connecting flame to a fuel bottle is a stupid idea.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nloop ( 665733 )
        No, you are making that up. Lighter fluid isn't very explosive. The little plastic bottle doesn't contain enough oxygen to cause an explosion. Good luck getting the flame through the tiny spray nozzle while spraying fluid out of it. Physics are against your story. While calling shenanigans on this I figured I'd consult youtube. If this were possible, there would definitely be videos. The only videos are the tins of lighter fluid literally doused and burned from the outside in. Totally different, tha
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        If this were true then welding torches couldn't exist. The nozzle itself prevents the flame from traveling to the reservoir. Doesn't matter that it's plastic, what matters is that it has no oxygen flowing through it, and it also absorbs any heat before it can flash back. Steady streams of flammable liquids are relatively safe as long as you don't light yourself on fire.
        • Uh, you never ran an acetylene torch, ever, did you?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by snspdaarf ( 1314399 )
          It's not the nozzle on a welding torch. Flashbacks into the mixing body of the torch are fairly common. Usually, there is a "pop", followed by a whistling, and the torch gets real hot real fast. However, if properly set up, there is a flashback preventer where the hoses attach to the torch that contains a brass screen. It's the screen that blocks the flame.
      • How would it have exploded? It seems you'd lack the necessary oxygen inside the lighter fluid bottle.
      • by RichiH ( 749257 )

        > Steady streams of flammable liquid connecting flame to a fuel bottle is a stupid idea.

        Steady streams of stuff are not the problem. Lots of technical applications and my burning of liters upon liters of stuff depend on this.

        Once you stop pressing a bottle and you suck air and a bit of lighter fluid back into the bottle the problems can start. If the stuff is still burning once it's back in the bottle, you have a problem.

    • by 6Yankee ( 597075 ) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @04:32PM (#33547740)

      I worked at a small airport, and trained as crash crew.

      Part of the training involved a six-foot-square metal pan full of oil, which the instructor lit.

      It was while standing there with the hose, hand on the lever but thinking that the foot-thick tornado of fire towering over me was way too beautiful to put out, that I realised I maybe wasn't the best person for the job...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Desert Raven ( 52125 )

        Not uncommon for pyromaniacs to become firefighters.

        In rural areas, a number of arson cases end up being traced back to volunteer firefighters. Most commonly involving abandoned structures or barns.

        • by RichiH ( 749257 )

          > In rural areas, a number of arson cases end up being traced back to volunteer firefighters. Most commonly involving abandoned structures or barns.

          Clearly, this can not happen in areas that are not rural.

      • by Jurily ( 900488 )

        It was while standing there with the hose, hand on the lever but thinking that the foot-thick tornado of fire towering over me was way too beautiful to put out, that I realised I maybe wasn't the best person for the job...

        I'm not quite sure you'd have the same reaction if said flames also constituted an immediate threat to your and others' life.

        • Whoosh!! (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          That “whooshing” sound you just heard were flames drafting over your head.

    • get a can of alcahol-butane mix, e.g. Lynx deoderat.

      get a plastic bottle, not to big.

      spray a moderate amount (not too much) deoderant into the bottle. (hot days are best).

      wait.. a tiny while.

      place bottle on ground

      ignite opening

      jet propelled bottle!

  • by Chocolate Teapot ( 639869 ) * on Saturday September 11, 2010 @03:25PM (#33547206) Journal
    We're using Play-Do!
  • I would watch those videos if they weren't wrapped into a shit tornado also known as Adobe Flash.
  • C'mon. This is the internet. Blowtorch. Blower fan. Bottle of oxygen.


  • by NetDrain ( 167337 ) <slashdot at theblight dot net> on Saturday September 11, 2010 @03:28PM (#33547238) Homepage

    Here's a real flame tornado: Nate Smith, a gent I know personally, doin' his thing: []

  • When started to appear the mentos on coke videos in internet, suddently a lot wanted to try that, but the consequences of doing it wrong or unsafe werent so bad, even funny sometimes. But if this goes viral, well, the darwin awards will have to open a special chapter.
  • Back before I knew such things existed in nature, I had the idea of hopefully causing a fuel/air explosion with a regular tornado.

    The idea was to pump a bunch of fuel into a regular tornado and ignite it, theoretically causing the tornado to dissipate.

    Unfortunately a lack of funds and people brave enough to man the trebuchets kept me from my plan.

    But it just seems more _eventful_ than a lazy susan and lighter fluid.

    Yes, my house insurance has extra coverage.

  • More power (Score:4, Funny)

    by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @04:13PM (#33547586)
    Have some friends help you flip the family car on its side. Securely fix the lower driven wheel to a stake driven into the ground next to it, or through its spokes to prevent it turning. Put a board to act as a turntable on the upper driven wheel and repeat this experiment with much more lighter fluid while someone revs the car in drive to make the plate spin at tremendous speed. This combines a reduction in reasonableness with more danger.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Don't forget to use a car with an oil pan/lubrication system that is designed to work at all angles.

      Otherwise you will be purchasing an engine rebuild from your local mechanic before you get bored of the fire tornado.


  • Not bad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JackSpratts ( 660957 ) on Saturday September 11, 2010 @05:15PM (#33548116) Homepage
  • As many of you probably know, Cremora is highly flammable. A friend of mine once filled a coffee can with Cremora and placed a common butane torch beside it (with the flame burning over the can). Then he fed an airhose into the Cremora, the other end of which attached to a compressor. With everyone well away from the coffee can, he turned on the compressor. The resultant fireball was about 20'-25' in diameter.
    • Shhh!!! Don't tell people about that! There are already people on slashdot who think lighter fluid is extremely dangerous! I hope nobody mentions hand sanitizer napalm, then we would be in trouble!
    • The Mythbusters did that too: []

      (Obviously they scaled it up a bit :))

    • Sorry I didn't read to here before I posted above. If they had shot the air across the TOP of the powder, then the venturi -like effect would have atomized the particles properly, the igntion would have been nearly instantaneous, and they wouldn't have wasted hundreds of pounds of powder creating a smoldering mess around their device. This has been done for years, and the flame can be turned on and off at will. I suppose Cremora is cheaper than Lycopodium powder. It looks like maybe I should set up a proper

  • The mythbusters have to try this!

  • Why's this guy dressed like Billy Mays / Blockbuster employee?
  • Well, that was impressively unimpressive.
  • This fire tornado thing reminds me of toothpick plasma []. Not the same thing, but seems to be about as neat.

  • []

    ANd of course there is one you really should *never* do unless you are Hunter Thompson: bottles of propane, a large caliber rifle, and a packet of nitroglycerin.

  • Back in the days when I used to design theme parks (fun profession!) I used to work with a company (Spectra F/X) that made these.

    Most spectacularly GIANT versions of these flame tornados were used in Universal Studio's attraction "Backdraft" based on the movie of the same name. At least that what I think it was named; the title was about the hazard a firemen faced when entering a burning building that suddenly gets an influx of more oxygen. Anyway, the attraction is pretty impressive lots of real, hot fir

  • Sounds looks like a mind freak. Big build up, no pay off
  • But I think for sheer apocalyptitude it doesn't beat the fire and lightning volcanic ash cloud []

  • by PeterPiper ( 167721 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @06:57PM (#33556332) Homepage

    It was a few decades ago, but in my teens I had occasion to spend a weekend at a fireman's weekend where a great many and varied workshops were being given on any number of esoteric aspects of firefighting, and some of the more mundane. I took some of the mundane workshops on forest fire fighting and such. But I made my weekend more of a relaxed affair so I would have time to wander and see what everyone else was up to.

    One group was busy creating fire tornadoes, and putting them out. But what I am referring to here, is nothing at all like what is featured in this video, or anything at all like Hollywood has ever dared venture.

    The group was training in how to assault oil fires and extinguish them with a water hose, which is no mean trick. To make matters more complicated for them, dead center of the oil fire was a husk of tanker truck tank. This sat in the middle of a concrete pool ~10 meters square (30' x 30'). The pool was filled with six inches of water. The instructors would dump a full oil drum of oil into the pool, creating an oil slick that covered the entire surface. The training crew ready, they would toss in a match.

    Now THAT is a fire tornado!

    The result was a literal tornado of fire, a veritable solid pillar of flame that would do Moses proud! Thirty feet in diameter, this vortex roared so loud you could barely hear the shouted commands of the fireman as they assaulted the monster. It ripped and twisted, the spiraling cylinder reaching easily a hundred feet or more, straight up. The flame was dense red, and so intense there was nothing opaque about it. Pure fire, at it most intense.

    I sat there for hours watching as they put it out, and lit up another, over and over.

Disraeli was pretty close: actually, there are Lies, Damn lies, Statistics, Benchmarks, and Delivery dates.