Tree Burns on the Inside After Being Struck by Lightning: 'A Rare But Fascinating Phenomena'

It is less than 10 days until Halloween and as if to get into the holiday spirit, eerie footage of a tree burning from the inside out has gone viral.

A look inside a tree that has been struck by lightning.

— So Fain (@sofain) October 20, 2019

The video was posted to Twitter by @sofain last Sunday. Since then, it has racked up more than 131,000 retweets, 510,000 likes and 15.8 million views, with Twitter users comparing the dystopian scene to the gates of Hell, the Eye of Sauron and the portals of Stranger Things.

One Twitter user brought up Biblical references—"this tree's about to tell me that i have to free the slaves from egypt," @dirkshimada tweeted. Another was reminded of something a little closer to home: "My gastrointestinal system post-Chipotles," said @mike_sell.

While some have questioned the video's legitimacy, hoax fighter and factfinder HoaxEye believes it is authentic.

"Many questions about this tree burning inside. I haven't found the source, but the video looks authentic," tweeted HoaxEye.

Although the clip may look as though someone's got a little creative with Photoshop, burning trees such as these have been seen before and have garnered plenty of headlines in the past.

"The video shows a rare but fascinating phenomena that has been studied before," Professor Guillermo Rein, an expert in Fire Science at Imperial College London, told Newsweek.

In May, the Millbury Fire Department in Massachusetts posted an image on Facebook showing a large tree with a cavernous hole in its trunk that had been set alight by lightning.

See posts, photos and more on Facebook.

In 2017, footage of a tree burning from its inside after the wildfires in Sonoma County, California, was widely reported at the time. The previous year, a video clip of a similarly spooky tree recorded by a truck driver in Ohio also went viral.

"This phenomenon is not that uncommon and could be caused by lighting, but often the reason is e.g. forest fire or humans," tweeted HoaxEye.

Here's another example:

This was one of the most insane sights I saw while covering -this hollow tree burning from with #CaliforniaWildfires

— Lilia Luciano (@lilialuciano) October 13, 2017

According to the University of California Cooperative Extension, it is possible for fire to burn the inside of a tree trunk while leaving little evidence of it from the outside.

It is not clear what triggered the burning tree in this instance but as Rein told Newsweek, one possible cause is lightning.

"‪What probably started as a smoldering fire after a lightning strike, very slowly carved out a hollow section inside the tree and made its way upwards," said Rein.

"This process can produce a natural chimney inside the trunk which then transitions to flaming and accelerates the burning."

Another explanation, Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science at UC Berkeley, told National Geographic involves Armillaria (or honey fungus), a parasite that eats up the tree from the within, leaving the inside of the trunk hollow and the outside dry and brittle. This leaves it vulnerable to flames sparked by wildfires, lightning or human activity.

If flames manage to enter the cavity, the tree can burn for days until it eventually collapses, said Stephens.

lightning bolt
The inside of the tree is thought to have set alight after it was struck by lightning. Believe_In_Me/iStock