Wow! Glad I wasn't anywhere near that one...
The KTLA Channel 5 helicopter captured some interesting video of an impressive fire whirl. It’s hard to appreciate it from seeing still photos since it did not appear to be very tall like many large fire whirls, but the indrafts it created are fascinating. At the end of the video below, an Air-Crane helicopter dropped water that at least for a while took most of the energy out of it.
Maybe a helicopter pilot can tell us how ballsy it was, or was not, to fly close enough to drop water on the fire whirl.
Fire whirls, much like dust devils, are not uncommon on a fire when the atmosphere is unstable, and are much smaller than fire tornados ... the average size of a fire whirl is usually 33 to 100 feet, with rotational velocities of 22 to 67 MPH.
But a fire tornado dominates the large scale fire dynamics. They lead to extreme hazard and control problems. In size, they average 100 to 1,000 feet in diameter and have rotational velocities up to 90 MPH.
There's more at the link.
Here's the video.
Looking at the way flames dozens, even scores of yards away were sucked into that thing... scary! If that fire got into a residential neighborhood, how could you possibly stop it consuming the entire area? The average domestic garden hose or fire extinguishers would be utterly useless. I'm not sure even fire engines could cope.