A firestorm is created as a result of the stack effect 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 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 is capable of producing small tornado- or dust devil-like circulations called fire whirls 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 and induce true tornadoes . Probably, this is true for the Peshtigo Fire.
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 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 people and movables into the fire, where they are incinerated instantly, 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 furnace, where anything that might possibly burn does so readily, whereas the rest either melts or sublimates, until nothing is left; only then does the firestorm run 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 or "fire cloud". A large pyrocumulus can grow into a pyrocumulonimbus and produce lightning, which can set off further fires. Apart from forest fires, pyrocumulus clouds can also be produced by volcanic eruptions.
In Australia, the prevalence of eucalyptus 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) has a similar effect. For instance, methane explosions enforced the Peshtigo Fire.