Firestorm
Overview
 
A firestorm is a conflagration
Conflagration
A conflagration or a blaze is an uncontrolled burning that threatens human life, health, or property. A conflagration can be accidentally begun, naturally caused , or intentionally created . Arson can be accomplished for the purpose of sabotage or diversion, and also can be the consequence of...

 which attains such intensity that it creates and sustains its own wind system. It is most commonly a natural phenomenon, created during some of the largest bushfires, forest fires, and wildfire
Wildfire
A wildfire is any uncontrolled fire in combustible vegetation that occurs in the countryside or a wilderness area. Other names such as brush fire, bushfire, forest fire, desert fire, grass fire, hill fire, squirrel fire, vegetation fire, veldfire, and wilkjjofire may be used to describe the same...

s. The Black Saturday bushfires, the Great Peshtigo Fire
Peshtigo Fire
The October 8, 1871 Peshtigo Fire in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, is the conflagration that caused the most deaths by fire in United States history, killing as many as 1,500. Occurring on the same day as the more infamous Great Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire is mostly forgotten...

 and the Ash Wednesday fires
Ash Wednesday fires
The Ash Wednesday bushfires, known in South Australia as Ash Wednesday II, were a series of bushfires that occurred in south-eastern Australia on 16 February 1983. Within twelve hours, more than 180 fires fanned by winds of up to 110 km per hour caused widespread destruction across the states...

 are examples of firestorms, as is that following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake
1906 San Francisco earthquake
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was a major earthquake that struck San Francisco, California, and the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906. The most widely accepted estimate for the magnitude of the earthquake is a moment magnitude of 7.9; however, other...

. Firestorms can also be deliberate effects of targeted explosives
Explosive material
An explosive material, also called an explosive, is a reactive substance that contains a great amount of potential energy that can produce an explosion if released suddenly, usually accompanied by the production of light, heat, sound, and pressure...

 such as occurred as a result of the aerial bombings
Firebombing
Firebombing is a bombing technique designed to damage a target, generally an urban area, through the use of fire, caused by incendiary devices, rather than from the blast effect of large bombs....

 of Dresden
Bombing of Dresden in World War II
The Bombing of Dresden was a military bombing by the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force and as part of the Allied forces between 13 February and 15 February 1945 in the Second World War...

, Hamburg
Bombing of Hamburg in World War II
The Allied bombing of Hamburg during World War II included numerous strategic bombing missions and diversion/nuisance raids. As a large port and industrial center, Hamburg's shipyards, U-boat pens, and the Hamburg-Harburg area oil refineries were attacked throughout the war...

, Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

, Tokyo, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

 (but not Nagasaki) and The Blitz
The Blitz
The Blitz was the sustained strategic bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941, during the Second World War. The city of London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 76 consecutive nights and many towns and cities across the country followed...

 during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.
A firestorm is created as a result of the stack effect
Stack effect
Stack effect is the movement of air into and out of buildings, chimneys, flue gas stacks, or other containers, and is driven by buoyancy. Buoyancy occurs due to a difference in indoor-to-outdoor air density resulting from temperature and moisture differences. The result is either a positive or...

 as the heat of the original fire draws in more and more of the surrounding air.
Encyclopedia
A firestorm is a conflagration
Conflagration
A conflagration or a blaze is an uncontrolled burning that threatens human life, health, or property. A conflagration can be accidentally begun, naturally caused , or intentionally created . Arson can be accomplished for the purpose of sabotage or diversion, and also can be the consequence of...

 which attains such intensity that it creates and sustains its own wind system. It is most commonly a natural phenomenon, created during some of the largest bushfires, forest fires, and wildfire
Wildfire
A wildfire is any uncontrolled fire in combustible vegetation that occurs in the countryside or a wilderness area. Other names such as brush fire, bushfire, forest fire, desert fire, grass fire, hill fire, squirrel fire, vegetation fire, veldfire, and wilkjjofire may be used to describe the same...

s. The Black Saturday bushfires, the Great Peshtigo Fire
Peshtigo Fire
The October 8, 1871 Peshtigo Fire in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, is the conflagration that caused the most deaths by fire in United States history, killing as many as 1,500. Occurring on the same day as the more infamous Great Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire is mostly forgotten...

 and the Ash Wednesday fires
Ash Wednesday fires
The Ash Wednesday bushfires, known in South Australia as Ash Wednesday II, were a series of bushfires that occurred in south-eastern Australia on 16 February 1983. Within twelve hours, more than 180 fires fanned by winds of up to 110 km per hour caused widespread destruction across the states...

 are examples of firestorms, as is that following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake
1906 San Francisco earthquake
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was a major earthquake that struck San Francisco, California, and the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906. The most widely accepted estimate for the magnitude of the earthquake is a moment magnitude of 7.9; however, other...

. Firestorms can also be deliberate effects of targeted explosives
Explosive material
An explosive material, also called an explosive, is a reactive substance that contains a great amount of potential energy that can produce an explosion if released suddenly, usually accompanied by the production of light, heat, sound, and pressure...

 such as occurred as a result of the aerial bombings
Firebombing
Firebombing is a bombing technique designed to damage a target, generally an urban area, through the use of fire, caused by incendiary devices, rather than from the blast effect of large bombs....

 of Dresden
Bombing of Dresden in World War II
The Bombing of Dresden was a military bombing by the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force and as part of the Allied forces between 13 February and 15 February 1945 in the Second World War...

, Hamburg
Bombing of Hamburg in World War II
The Allied bombing of Hamburg during World War II included numerous strategic bombing missions and diversion/nuisance raids. As a large port and industrial center, Hamburg's shipyards, U-boat pens, and the Hamburg-Harburg area oil refineries were attacked throughout the war...

, Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

, Tokyo, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

 (but not Nagasaki) and The Blitz
The Blitz
The Blitz was the sustained strategic bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941, during the Second World War. The city of London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 76 consecutive nights and many towns and cities across the country followed...

 during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.

Mechanism

A firestorm is created as a result of the stack effect
Stack effect
Stack effect is the movement of air into and out of buildings, chimneys, flue gas stacks, or other containers, and is driven by buoyancy. Buoyancy occurs due to a difference in indoor-to-outdoor air density resulting from temperature and moisture differences. The result is either a positive or...

 as the heat of the original fire draws in more and more of the surrounding air. This draft can be quickly increased if a low level jet stream
Jet stream
Jet streams are fast flowing, narrow air currents found in the atmospheres of some planets, including Earth. The main jet streams are located near the tropopause, the transition between the troposphere and the stratosphere . The major jet streams on Earth are westerly winds...

 exists over or near the fire. As the updraft mushrooms, strong gusty winds develop around the fire, directed inward which supply the fire with additional air. This would seem to prevent the firestorm from spreading on the wind, but the tremendous turbulence also created causes the strong surface inflow winds to change direction erratically. This wind shear
Wind shear
Wind shear, sometimes referred to as windshear or wind gradient, is a difference in wind speed and direction over a relatively short distance in the atmosphere...

 is capable of producing small tornado
Tornado
A tornado is a violent, dangerous, rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. They are often referred to as a twister or a cyclone, although the word cyclone is used in meteorology in a wider...

- or dust devil
Dust devil
A dust devil is a strong, well-formed, and relatively long-lived whirlwind, ranging from small to large . The primary vertical motion is upward...

-like circulations called fire whirl
Fire whirl
A fire whirl, colloquially fire devil or fire tornado, is a phenomenon—rarely captured on camera—in which a fire, under certain conditions , acquires a vertical vorticity and forms a whirl, or a tornado-like vertically oriented rotating column of air...

s which can also dart around erratically, damage or destroy houses and buildings, and quickly spread the fire to areas outside the central area of the fire. A firestorm may also develop into a mesocyclone
Mesocyclone
A mesocyclone is a vortex of air, approximately 2 to 10 miles in diameter , within a convective storm....

 and induce true tornadoes.
Probably, this is true for the Peshtigo Fire
Peshtigo Fire
The October 8, 1871 Peshtigo Fire in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, is the conflagration that caused the most deaths by fire in United States history, killing as many as 1,500. Occurring on the same day as the more infamous Great Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire is mostly forgotten...

.

The greater draft of a firestorm draws in greater quantities of oxygen, which significantly increases combustion, thereby also substantially increasing the production of heat. The intense heat of a firestorm manifests largely as radiated heat (infrared
Infrared
Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than that of visible light, measured from the nominal edge of visible red light at 0.74 micrometres , and extending conventionally to 300 µm...

 radiation) which ignites flammable material at a distance ahead of the fire itself. This also serves to expand the area and the intensity of the firestorm. Violent, erratic wind drafts suction movables into the fire, while those caught close or under the fire die for lack of available oxygen. Radiated heat from the fire can melt asphalt, metal, and glass, and turn street tarmac into flammable hot liquid. The very high temperatures replicate the conditions of a smelting
Smelting
Smelting is a form of extractive metallurgy; its main use is to produce a metal from its ore. This includes iron extraction from iron ore, and copper extraction and other base metals from their ores...

 furnace
Furnace
A furnace is a device used for heating. The name derives from Latin fornax, oven.In American English and Canadian English, the term furnace on its own is generally used to describe household heating systems based on a central furnace , and sometimes as a synonym for kiln, a device used in the...

, where anything that might possibly burn does so readily, until the firestorm runs out of fuel.

Besides the enormous ash cloud produced by a firestorm, under the right conditions, it can also induce condensation, forming a pyrocumulus cloud
Pyrocumulus cloud
A pyrocumulus, or literally fire cloud, is a dense cumuliform cloud associated with fire or volcanic activity.A pyrocumulus is similar dynamically in some ways to a firestorm, and the two phenomena may occur in conjunction with each other...

 or "fire cloud". A large pyrocumulus can grow into a pyrocumulonimbus
Pyrocumulonimbus
The pyrocumulonimbus cloud is a type of cumulus cloud formed above a source of heat such as a wildfire and may sometimes even extinguish the fire that formed it. It is the most extreme manifestation of pyrocumulus...

 and produce lightning, which can set off further fires. Apart from forest fires, pyrocumulus clouds can also be produced by volcanic eruptions
Volcano
2. Bedrock3. Conduit 4. Base5. Sill6. Dike7. Layers of ash emitted by the volcano8. Flank| 9. Layers of lava emitted by the volcano10. Throat11. Parasitic cone12. Lava flow13. Vent14. Crater15...

.

In Australia, the prevalence of eucalyptus
Eucalyptus
Eucalyptus is a diverse genus of flowering trees in the myrtle family, Myrtaceae. Members of the genus dominate the tree flora of Australia...

 trees that have oil in their leaves results in forest fires that are noted for their extremely tall and intense flame front. Hence the bush fires appear more as a firestorm than a simple forest fire. Sometimes, emission of combustible gases from swamps (e.g., methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

) has a similar effect. For instance, methane explosions enforced the Peshtigo Fire.

In cities

The same underlying combustion physics can also apply to man-made structures such as cities during war or disaster.

Firestorms are thought to have been part of the mechanism of large urban fires such as the Great Fire of Rome
Great Fire of Rome
The Great Fire of Rome was an urban fire that occurred beginning July 19, AD 64.-Background:According to Tacitus, the fire spread quickly and burned for six days. Only four of the fourteen districts of Rome escaped the fire; three districts were completely destroyed and the other seven suffered...

, the Great Fire of London
Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of the English city of London, from Sunday, 2 September to Wednesday, 5 September 1666. The fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman City Wall...

, the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, and the fires resulting from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake
1906 San Francisco earthquake
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was a major earthquake that struck San Francisco, California, and the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906. The most widely accepted estimate for the magnitude of the earthquake is a moment magnitude of 7.9; however, other...

 and the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake
1923 Great Kanto earthquake
The struck the Kantō plain on the Japanese main island of Honshū at 11:58:44 am JST on September 1, 1923. Varied accounts hold that the duration of the earthquake was between 4 and 10 minutes...

. Firestorms were also created by the firebombing
Firebombing
Firebombing is a bombing technique designed to damage a target, generally an urban area, through the use of fire, caused by incendiary devices, rather than from the blast effect of large bombs....

 raids of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 in cities like Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

, Tokyo
Bombing of Tokyo in World War II
The bombing of Tokyo, often referred to as a "firebombing", was conducted by the United States Army Air Forces during the Pacific campaigns of World War II. The U.S. mounted a small-scale raid on Tokyo in April 1942, with large morale effects...

, Kobe
Bombing of Kobe in World War II
On March 17, 1945, 331 American B-29 bombers launched a firebombing attack against the city of Kobe, Japan. Of the city's residents, 8,841 were confirmed to have been killed in the resulting firestorms, which destroyed an area of three square miles and included 21% of Kobe's urban area. At the...

, Hiroshima
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

, Hamburg
Bombing of Hamburg in World War II
The Allied bombing of Hamburg during World War II included numerous strategic bombing missions and diversion/nuisance raids. As a large port and industrial center, Hamburg's shipyards, U-boat pens, and the Hamburg-Harburg area oil refineries were attacked throughout the war...

, and Dresden
Bombing of Dresden in World War II
The Bombing of Dresden was a military bombing by the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force and as part of the Allied forces between 13 February and 15 February 1945 in the Second World War...

.
City / Event Date of the firestorm Notes
Great Fire of London
Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of the English city of London, from Sunday, 2 September to Wednesday, 5 September 1666. The fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman City Wall...

2 September 1666 – 5 September 1666 Most of the City of London
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

 was destroyed, though few fatalities recorded (this affected a much smaller area than that covered by modern London).
1871 Great Chicago Fire
Peshtigo Fire
Peshtigo Fire
The October 8, 1871 Peshtigo Fire in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, is the conflagration that caused the most deaths by fire in United States history, killing as many as 1,500. Occurring on the same day as the more infamous Great Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire is mostly forgotten...


Port Huron Fire
Port Huron Fire of 1871
The Port Huron Fire of Sunday October 8, 1871 burned a number of cities including White Rock and Port Huron, and much of the countryside in the "Thumb" region of the U.S. state of Michigan...

8 October 1871 Hundreds killed in Chicago from 8 October to 10 October; up to 2,500 killed in Peshtigo, Wisconsin
Peshtigo, Wisconsin
Peshtigo is a city in Marinette County, Wisconsin, United States. The population was 3,357 at the 2000 census. The city is located within the Town of Peshtigo. It is part of the Marinette, WI–MI Micropolitan Statistical Area...

; others killed in similar fires in Holland
Holland, Michigan
Holland is a city in the western region of the Lower Peninsula of the U.S. state of Michigan. It is situated near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan on Lake Macatawa, which is fed by the Macatawa River ....

 and Manistee, Michigan
Manistee, Michigan
Manistee is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 6,586. It is the county seat of Manistee County. The name "Manistee" is from an Ojibwe word first applied to the principal river of the county. The derivation is not certain, but it may be from...

.
1906 San Francisco Earthquake
1906 San Francisco earthquake
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 was a major earthquake that struck San Francisco, California, and the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906. The most widely accepted estimate for the magnitude of the earthquake is a moment magnitude of 7.9; however, other...

18 April 1906 Also known as the "Ham and Eggs Fire," the fire became uncontrollable because of water mains damaged in the quake.
Great Fire of 1910
Great Fire of 1910
The Great Fire of 1910 was a wildfire which burned about three million acres in northeast Washington, northern Idaho , and western Montana...

20–21 August 1910 Also known as the "Big Burn" and the "Big Blowup": 87 killed (including one entire Forest Service Fire crew of 28 men), at least 3 towns were partially burned in two days of firestorms; about 3 million acres (12,140.6 km²) of forest lands in 4 U.S. western states is estimated to have burned. Smoke reached as far as New England and fallout ash was found on snowfields in Greenland.
1923 Great Kantō earthquake
1923 Great Kanto earthquake
The struck the Kantō plain on the Japanese main island of Honshū at 11:58:44 am JST on September 1, 1923. Varied accounts hold that the duration of the earthquake was between 4 and 10 minutes...

1 September 1923 140,000 dead, most of them in firestorms in Tokyo and the port city of Yokohama
Yokohama
is the capital city of Kanagawa Prefecture and the second largest city in Japan by population after Tokyo and most populous municipality of Japan. It lies on Tokyo Bay, south of Tokyo, in the Kantō region of the main island of Honshu...

. Total damages amounted to 40% of the GNP of that year.
Black Friday (1939)
Black Friday (1939)
The Black Friday fires of 13 January 1939, in Victoria, Australia, were considered one of the worst natural bushfires in the world, and certainly the single worst in Australian history as a measure of land affected...

13 January 1939 71 people died, Almost 2,000,000 ha (4,942,000 acres) burnt. Over 1,300 homes,69 sawmills and a total of 3,700 buildings were destroyed.
Second Great Fire of London 29/30 December 1940 Particularly heavy bombing raids (as part of The Blitz
The Blitz
The Blitz was the sustained strategic bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941, during the Second World War. The city of London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 76 consecutive nights and many towns and cities across the country followed...

) caused a firestorm affecting the City
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

 and other parts of London.
Bombing of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

23–26 August 1942 955 dead, 1,181 wounded, most of the city reduced to rubble
Bombing of Hamburg
Bombing of Hamburg in World War II
The Allied bombing of Hamburg during World War II included numerous strategic bombing missions and diversion/nuisance raids. As a large port and industrial center, Hamburg's shipyards, U-boat pens, and the Hamburg-Harburg area oil refineries were attacked throughout the war...

 (Germany)
27 July 1943 45,000 dead
Bombing of Kassel
Bombing of Kassel in World War II
The Kassel World War II bombings were a set of Allied strategic bombing attacks which took place from February 1942 to March 1945. The fire of the most severe air raid burned for seven days, at least 10,000 people died, 150,000 inhabitants were bombed-out, and the vast majority of the city center...

 (Germany)
23 October 1943 10,000 dead
Bombing of Braunschweig
Bombing of Braunschweig in World War II
During World War II Braunschweig was attacked by Allied aircraft in 42 bombing raids.The attack on the night of 14/15 October 1944 by No. 5 Group Royal Air Force marked the high point of the destruction of Henry the Lion's city in the Second World War...

 (Germany)
15 October 1944 2,600 dead
Bombing of Darmstadt
Bombing of Darmstadt in World War II
Darmstadt was bombed a number of times during World War II. The most devastating air raid on Darmstadt occurred on the night of 11/12 September 1944 when No. 5 Group the Royal Air Force bombed the city....

 (Germany)
11 September 1944 12,300 dead
Bombing of Heilbronn
Bombings of Heilbronn in World War II
During World War II, the German city of Heilbronn was bombed many times by both the British and the Americans. The largest attack occurred on 4 December 1944, but there were many previous attacks targeted at Heilbronn that were almost as damaging...

 (Germany)
6 December 1944 6,500 dead
Bombing of Dresden
Bombing of Dresden in World War II
The Bombing of Dresden was a military bombing by the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force and as part of the Allied forces between 13 February and 15 February 1945 in the Second World War...

 (Germany)
13 February 1945 25,000–135,000 dead
Bombing of Pforzheim
Bombing of Pforzheim in World War II
During the latter stages of World War II, Pforzheim, a town in southwestern Germany, was bombed a number of times. The largest raid, and one of the most devastating area bombardments of the war was carried out by the Royal Air Force on the evening of February 23, 1945. As many as 17,600 people,...

 (Germany)
23 February 1945 17,000 dead
Firebombing of Tokyo
Bombing of Tokyo in World War II
The bombing of Tokyo, often referred to as a "firebombing", was conducted by the United States Army Air Forces during the Pacific campaigns of World War II. The U.S. mounted a small-scale raid on Tokyo in April 1942, with large morale effects...

 (Japan)
9 March 1945 120,000 dead
Bombing of Würzburg
Bombing of Würzburg in World War II
The Bombing of Würzburg during World War II targeted railway and oil targets with strategic bombing attacks.The author Detlef Siebert wrote that "Some ... like Würzburg or Pforzheim were primarily selected because they were easy for the bombers to find and destroy...

 (Germany)
16 March 1945 5,000 dead
Firebombing of Kobe
Bombing of Kobe in World War II
On March 17, 1945, 331 American B-29 bombers launched a firebombing attack against the city of Kobe, Japan. Of the city's residents, 8,841 were confirmed to have been killed in the resulting firestorms, which destroyed an area of three square miles and included 21% of Kobe's urban area. At the...

 (Japan)
17 March 1945 8,841 dead
Atomic bombing of Hiroshima
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

 (Japan)
6 August 1945 90,000+ dead, though partly due to attendant nuclear explosion
Oakland Firestorm of 1991 20 October 1991 25 dead, $1.5 billion in damages
Black Saturday bushfires 7 February 2009 contained 6 March 2009 173 people died , 400 individual fires, 450,000 ha (1,100,000 acres) burnt, Over 3,500 structures destroyed


Early in World War II many British cities were firebombed, a particularly notable raid was the Coventry Blitz on 14 November 1940. During the Coventry Blitz the Germans pioneered several innovations which were to influence all future strategic bomber raids
Strategic bombing during World War II
Strategic bombing during World War II is a term which refers to all aerial bombardment of a strategic nature between 1939 and 1945 involving any nations engaged in World War II...

 during the war. These were: The use of pathfinder aircraft with electronic aids to navigate, to mark the targets before the main bomber raid; The use of high explosive bombs and air-mines (blockbuster bomb
Blockbuster bomb
Blockbuster or "cookie" was the name given to several of the largest conventional bombs used in World War II by the Royal Air Force...

s) coupled with thousands of incendiary bombs intended to set the city ablaze. The first wave of follow-up bombers dropped high explosive bombs, the intent of which was knock out the utilities (the water supply, electricity network and gas mains), and to crater the road – making it difficult for the fire engines to reach fires started by the follow-up waves of bombers. The follow-up waves dropped a combination of high explosive and incendiary bombs. There were two types of incendiary bombs: those made of magnesium
Magnesium
Magnesium is a chemical element with the symbol Mg, atomic number 12, and common oxidation number +2. It is an alkaline earth metal and the eighth most abundant element in the Earth's crust and ninth in the known universe as a whole...

 and those made of petroleum
Petroleum
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

. The high explosive bombs and the larger air-mines were not only designed to hamper the Coventry fire brigade, they were also intended to damage roofs, making it easier for the incendiary bombs to fall into buildings and ignite them. Arthur Travers Harris, commander of RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command
RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. During World War II the command destroyed a significant proportion of Nazi Germany's industries and many German cities, and in the 1960s stood at the peak of its postwar military power with the V bombers and a supplemental...

, wrote after the war "Coventry was adequately concentrated in point of space [to start a firestorm], but all the same there was little concentration in point of time", so a firestorm was not ignited. They did not have the numbers or size of aircraft (they only had a twin-engine bomber).
It was not until later in the war when Bomber Harris also known as "Butcher" Harris and the RAF managed sufficient concentration of bombers over one target close to simultaneously that a firestorm could be ignited. For example during the Dresden raid
Bombing of Dresden in World War II
The Bombing of Dresden was a military bombing by the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force and as part of the Allied forces between 13 February and 15 February 1945 in the Second World War...

 on 13 February 1945, first attack was carried out entirely by No. 5 Group
No. 5 Group RAF
No. 5 Group was a Royal Air Force bomber group of the Second World War, led during the latter part by AVM Sir Ralph Cochrane.-History:The Group was formed on 1 September 1937 with headquarters at RAF Mildenhall....

, using their own low-level marking methods and tactics. The pathfinders marked the Ostragehege
Ostragehege
Ostragehege is a multi-use sports venue in Dresden, Germany. Key buildings of the venue include the Heinz-Steyer-Stadion and the ice hockey stadium of the Dresdner Eislöwen . The stadium was the primary aiming point for No. 5 Group RAF squadron during the Dresden bombings of February 1945...

 stadium as the initial aiming point and each bomber fanned out from that point releasing their bombs at slightly different preassigned times on slightly different preassigned trajectories. The first bombs of No. 5 Group were released at 22:14 (CET
Central European Time
Central European Time , used in most parts of the European Union, is a standard time that is 1 hour ahead of Coordinated Universal Time . The time offset from UTC can be written as +01:00...

) with all but one bomber releasing all their bombs within two minutes. The fan shaped area of destruction that the 244 Lancaster bombers created was one and a quarter miles long and at its extreme about one and three quarters miles wide. This raid by the RAF, with follow up raids by more RAF bombers and bombers of the USAAF, caused one of the most devastating and infamous firestorms in history.

One of the most terrifying firestorms resulted from one bombing raid against Hamburg
Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

, on 27 July 1943, shortly before midnight. A number of factors combined to give the enormous destruction that followed; the unusually dry and warm weather, the concentration of the bombing in one area and that the city's firefighters were unable to reach the initial fires — the high explosive "Cookies"
Blockbuster bomb
Blockbuster or "cookie" was the name given to several of the largest conventional bombs used in World War II by the Royal Air Force...

 used in the early part of the raid had prevented them getting into the center of the city from the periphery where they were working on the results of the 24th. The bombings culminated in the spawning of the so-called "Feuersturm" (firestorm). Quite literally a tornado of fire, this phenomenon created a huge outdoor blast furnace, containing winds of up to 240 km/h (150 mph) and reaching temperatures of 800 °C (1,500 °F). It caused asphalt
Asphalt
Asphalt or , also known as bitumen, is a sticky, black and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid that is present in most crude petroleums and in some natural deposits, it is a substance classed as a pitch...

 on the streets to burst into flame, cooked people to death in air-raid shelters, sucked pedestrians off the sidewalks like leaves into a vacuum cleaner and incinerated some eight square miles (21 km²) of the city. Most of the 40,000 casualties caused by Operation Gomorrah happened on this single night.

In 1945, Tokyo had an average 103,000 inhabitants per square mile and peak levels as high as 135,000 per square mile, the highest density of any industrial city in the world. With firefighting measures inadequate to the task, 15.8 square miles (40.9 km²) of the city were destroyed
Bombing of Tokyo in World War II
The bombing of Tokyo, often referred to as a "firebombing", was conducted by the United States Army Air Forces during the Pacific campaigns of World War II. The U.S. mounted a small-scale raid on Tokyo in April 1942, with large morale effects...

 on a night when fierce winds whipped the flames and walls of fire blocked tens of thousands fleeing for their lives. An estimated 1.5 million people lived in the burned out areas.

Nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s can also create firestorms in urban areas. This was responsible for a large portion of the destruction at Hiroshima
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

.
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