Large-scale fire whirl and forest fire disasters: Awareness, implications, and the need for developing preventative methods

Adnan Darwish Ahmad, Nelson K. Akafuah, Jason Forthofer, Manabu Fuchihata, Taro Hirasawa, Kazunori Kuwana, Yuji Nakamura, Kozo Sekimoto, Kozo Saito, Forman A. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The authors are a team of fire whirl researchers who have been actively studying whirls and large-scale wildland fires by directly observing them through fire-fighting efforts and applying theory, scale modeling, and numerical simulations in fire research. This multidisciplinary research-background team previously conducted scale model experiments to reconstruct hazardous large-scale fires in the laboratory, then conducted numerical simulations and developed fundamental theories to translate these findings into a basic understanding of combustion science and fluid dynamics. This article, a mix of reviews of the state of art experiments, theories, numerical modeling and artificial intelligence, and two case studies, is intended to address some safety concerns and raise awareness of large-scale fire whirls and forest fires with knowledge of thermodynamics, chemical kinetics, fluid dynamics, design, and practical fire-fighting experience, offering gaps that should be filled and future research to be conducted in each field, and crucial new observations and insights on large-scale fire incidents. We believe, this timely topic is of interest not only to fire research community but also to general readers, as the frequency and intensity of large-scale forest fires and fire whirls have increased, possibly due to the continuing global warming trend and human-induced changes in fuels. Each section and case study was written by one or two individual researchers based on their field of expertise which allows them to critically review progress made in their section of large-scale fire-whirls and forest-fires. Crucial observations and insights on the historical Great-Kanto-Earthquake-generated Hifukusho-Ato Fire-whirl (HAFW) and the slow rotations observed during recent forest firefighting efforts are presented. The first case study occurred in downtown Tokyo on 1 September 1923, as a result of the Great-Kanto-Earthquake, which claimed over 38,000 deaths within 15 min. The second case study discusses large-scale slow rotations observed during recent forest fires, which might had been responsible for the injuries and deaths of experienced firefighters.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1045542
JournalFrontiers in Mechanical Engineering
StatePublished - Jan 19 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Sponsorship from the Institute of Research for Technology Development (IR4TD) at the University of Kentucky made this international collaboration on large-scale fire disaster studies possible.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 Darwish Ahmad, Akafuah, Forthofer, Fuchihata, Hirasawa, Kuwana, Nakamura, Sekimoto, Saito and Williams.


  • fire whirls
  • global warming
  • large circulation
  • large scale fires
  • scale modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science (all)
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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