How To Make a Red and Blue Fire Tornado

Easy Colored Fire Project

Make a red and blue fire tornado.
At slow speeds, the red and blue flames are distinct. As you increase rotation, your eye perceives the flame to be purple. Anne Helmenstine

 It's easy to make this red and blue fire tornado. This is a stunning fire project, perfect for when you are waiting for it to get dark to light fireworks!

Fire Tornado Materials

  • mesh waste basket
  • turntable or stool that can spin
  • heat-safe plate (metal, Pyrex, or stoneware are good choices)
  • methanol
  • strontium nitrate

You can find a metal mesh basket and lazy susan carousel at Bed Bath & Beyond, online at Amazon, and probably at many other stores. I used Heet fuel treatment for methanol and broke open a red emergency flare to get the powder inside, which contains strontium nitrate. Select a heat-safe plate that fits on the bottom of your waste basket. If the basket is metal and you don't mind getting it dirty, you can omit the plate.


The procedure is very similar to that used for the regular fire tornado and green fire tornado projects, except your goal is to get two colors of flame and get them to come together once the vortex forms.

  1. Set the waste basket on the turntable.
  2. Pour a small amount of strontium nitrate powder (or flare powder) in the middle of your plate.
  3. Pour a small amount of methanol around the pile of strontium salt and also dampen the powder with the fuel.
  4. Ignite the methanol.
  5. Slowly spin the carousel.
  6. Methanol goes out on its own pretty fast, but you can blow out the flames. If necessary, you can put the lid of a pan over your plate to quickly suffocate the fire or you can put it out with water.

Make It a Red, White, and Blue Fire Tornado

Now, if you like, you can introduce a third color into the flames. The easiest way to do this is to add a small amount of titanium or aluminum filings, which will burn as white sparks.

If you have magnesium handy, it will produce white flames. You can put a few crystals of Epsom salts in a pile separate from the strontium salts to get the white. The only problem using magnesium is the bright color can easily overpower the blue and red.

How It Works

The tabletop fire tornado works in much the same way as a real fire tornado or whirlwind. As the flames heat the air, it rises. Cooler air is pulled in through the sides of the mesh basket. Because the basket it spinning, you get a vortex that can climb up and somewhat beyond the walls of the basket.

The two-color effect works because the fuel, methanol, burns with a blue flame. The blue color is readily overpowered by the emission spectrum of just about any ion, so the red from the strontium retains its color. The salt does not dissolve enough in the methanol to color the whole area red. Contrast this with boric acid (green), which dissolves in methanol and produces a green flame without the blue of the fuel.

Tips and Safety Information

  • It's fire, so this is an adult-only project. Don't get crazy.
  • While I lit the methanol with a regular Zippo lighter, you might prefer to use a long-handled match or lighter, to increase the distance between your hand and the flame.
  • Another way to perform this project is to place a small amount of methanol in two metal cups, one containing the strontium salt. This forms two flames, which entwine when you spin the carousel. It is a beautiful effect, but the laws of physics will pull those cups outward, potentially spilling fire and fuel. It's possible to anchor the cups (e.g., hot glue gun). If you decide to try this variation, spin the carousel very slowly and be prepared, in case you need to put out some flames.
  • If you got your strontium salt from an emergency flare, keep in mind... it's a flare. You may hit patches of oxidizer, which will burn very brightly. My advice here is to only use a small amount of powder. It does not take much to get a nice red color.

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