A prescribed burn at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal turned frightening when a dust devil formed, drawing in the fire and nearby tumbleweeds to create a swirling inferno.
As terrifying as the tumbleweed firenado in the video is, the firefighters were prepared for the possibility of accidental fires as part of their controlled burn. The US Fish and Wildlife Service added some context in the comments of the video:
A whirlwind of tumbleweeds blows up 200 feet into the air from the Uvalda irrigation ditch during a prescribed fire at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge on the prairie near metropolitan Denver, Colorado. Whirlwinds such as this are naturally occurring and commonly created by divergent wind patterns. In this instance, the whirlwind pulled the fire across the control line, causing burning tumbleweeds to start a spot fire. The safety of the public and our firefighters is always our number one priority and holding crews quickly extinguished the flames, which is standard procedure.
Fully prepared and trained firefighters from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, South Metro, Denver, Fairmount, and West Metro Fire Departments conducted the prescribed fire to clear overgrown vegetation, reduce wildfire risk to nearby homes, and stimulate growth of native switchgrass and Indian grass. Burns are regularly scheduled at the Refuge to reduce the possibility of accidental fires on our prairie. This video dramatically demonstrates the need for this program. Another burn took place on Wednesday, March 19th, during which an additional 678 acres were burned according to plan.
"What we saw and how we reacted is exactly what we want out of our fire crews — well planned with plenty of on-site resources to manage contingencies, safety first, and well trained folks got after it quickly," said Refuge Manager David Lucas.