GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Firestorms are one of the most violent and unpredictable aspects of severe weather phenomena. Which brings us to this week’s question, what is a firestorm?

A wildfire occurs when dried out vegetation is ignited by a very hot power source. This could literally be something as simple as sunlight or something a little more coincidental such as a lightning strike, discarded cigarettes or a faulty power cable.

Tropical Storm Mindy forms in Gulf of Mexico off Florida coast

As the fire spreads, tree canopies eventually ignite. Embers dispensed from burning trees travel several feet in every direction, adding to the intensification and expansion of a wildfire. Winds spread the fire as well.

CLICK HERE for previous “What’s Up Weather” segments

Now with fire heating the surrounding air at the surface, atmospheric motion comes into play. Hot air cools as it rises and water droplets form on the flying ash. With more and more water droplets combining, a cloud forms.

Hurricane Larry brings threat of dangerous rip currents to NC coast

This ongoing vertical motion of hot rising air creates what meteorologists refer to as a thermal column. This column continues to fuel the firestorm cloud by transporting smoke, ash, and oxygen from the wildfire below. 

As of August, the United States National Interagency Fire Center has reported that there have been over 41,000 wildfires burning 4.8 million acres alone this year.