The world is stranger and more terrifying than you can imagine.
An Australian filmmaker named Chris Tangey recently caught one of the most frightening natural phenomena I can imagine: a tornado of fire, also known as a "fire devil."
You have most likely heard of "dust devils." Those small localized whirlwinds that pick up dust and carry them along, Tasmanian Devil-style, sometimes for a great distance. These happen because the wind forms a circular eddy, similar to the vortex you might see in a river. You can create one yourself by scooping your hand through a basin of water.
These vortexes can form anywhere, although they are most common (and most long-lived) in flat desert areas. The flat desert has two features which promote the creation and persistence of dust devils: first, they have the sun-heated soil which can send up a hot plume of air that kicks off the vertex of air currents. Second, they have fewer land forms and objects that can disrupt the air flow and thus "kill" the dust devil.
Turns out? Same thing can happen with fire.
Tangey was scouting film locations outside Alice Springs, Australia when he came across a brush fire. The fire apparently sent up a plume of superheated air which sucked the flames about a hundred feet into the air, whirling them into a tornado that moved across the Australian desert.
Very little is known about fire devils, mostly because they are so difficult to observe. Scientists speculate that they occur frequently inside large fires, but this puts them outside the reach of most people's powers of observation. For all we know, fire devils are marching along through forest fires all the time, but no one's there to see it.
(If a tree catches fire in the forest with no one around to hear it, does it still scream?)
Because of the physics of a fire devil, it is fairly unlikely that one would spring up, say, in the middle of a busy street, or right there in your front yard. Or BEHIND YOU, LOOK OUT. But I say, you can't be too careful. Obviously we should all be carrying fire extinguishers at all times.
Water spouts are a similar phenomenon which are often observed in the ocean and even over large lakes. It's like a terrifying game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors." The dust devil sucks up the water spout; water spout puts out flame devil; flame devil sets dust devil on fire.