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  1. THE sky was "black as pitch" and flames leapt above the nearby sandhills as Ashley Severin stood atop his grader at Curtin Springs station and yelled. Alice Springs filmmaker Chris Tangey spun round, his camera already cocked and rolling in an incredible moment of good fortune, to capture four dust devils dancing, one with a gullet full of flame. In a show lasting some 40 minutes, Tangey says, the largest uprooted mulga trees and hurled them skywards, a "proper tornado", while the most spectacular swallowed a bushfire, sending an arc of twisting orange up toward the heavens. "It was like a dance of giants, really," Tangey says. "There was a red one, a black one, a white one and one made of fire." After two wet La Nina summers, central Australia is on the cusp of setting a new record for its longest dry spell -- 147 days if no rain falls in Alice Springs by Wednesday. The once-lush country has dried, with some areas already "going to bulldust", Severin says. Elsewhere, the withered vegetation is ripe to burn. When the twisters appeared on Tuesday, Severin and his men had already been fighting bushfires for more than a week. A "bloody horrendous" task, involving back-breaking work to contain flames that had spread into an area not burned in more than 50 years, he says. "The smoke on the ground was thick like a blanket," Severin says, describing a "real pearler" of a fire unlike any seen before, even by an experienced, second-generation cattleman like him. Severin nipped back to the station homestead, about 80km from Uluru and 360km from Alice Springs, to meet filmmaker Tangey, who had come out to do some location scouting. Later, the two returned to check on the firefront with others, including a station hand known only as "Spook". That's when the twisters appeared. "There was no wind where we were, and yet you had this tornado," Tangey says. For him, it sounded "like a fighter jet"; for Severin, it was like "standing behind a 747". "I've never seen anything like it. I just thought the ground was going to start trembling," Severin says. "The noise it was making, the speed, the red flames in the centre of it. It was like a kaleidoscope show." Geoff Kenna, a senior fire control officer with Bushfires NT in Alice Springs, says serious bushfires can create their own wind and sometimes phenomena such as twisters or tornados. "Especially when you have a lot of combustible materials, the heat can really build up," Kenna says. He says large areas of the Northern Territory burned last summer, in the wake of the wet, La Nina seasons. La Nina is a Pacific-coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that typically brings wet weather to Australia. But with La Nina now gone and its opposite cousin, El Nino, stalking, forecasters say the next few months will be hotter and drier than average across much of northern Australia. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/alice-dust-devils-pack-a-gullet-full-of-flames/story-e6frg6nf-1226474496818
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