How Do Wildfires Get Their Names?
Bowl. August complex. Not creative.
The top three of the Belmont Stakes? No, these are the names of the wildfires that have burned down in the American West in recent years.
Unlike hurricanes, which are given human names from a list chosen in advance by the World Meteorological Organization, wildfires get their names in a much more intuitive way: fire path.
Some of those currently burning include the South Yaak Fire in Montana (after the Yaak Valley), the Tamarack Fire in California (after a town), and the country’s largest fire this year, the Dixie Fire (after a nearby road).
Usually, fires get their name from their origin, blaze officials said. They are named after winding rural roads, nearby landmarks or mountain peaks.
Although the Dixie fire started some distance from where Dixie Road appears on the maps, Rick Carhart, Butte County spokesperson for Cal Fire, the state fire agency of California, said this demonstrates just how “remote and inaccessible” the fire is to firefighters.
“Even though it didn’t start on the Dixie Road side, it was the closest thing,” he said. Mr Carhart noted that Dixie Road appears near Camp Creek Road after which the 2018 deadly campfire was named.
Lynnette Round, spokesperson for Cal Fire, said this also means that multiple fires can end up with the same name.
There has been more than one river fire, for example. And in 2017, in a busy year, the fire known as Lilac Fire in San Diego County was actually the fifth to be given that name.
Ms Round said the first firefighters on the scene often name a fire and the nickname is hardly ever changed.
“If that changes, you’re going to confuse people,” she said. Residents who have fled their homes might not know which fire they should pay attention to if the names change. And firefighters might not know where to send the resources.
Sometimes the fires burn together and merge effectively. If this happens, as it did with the Dixie Fire and the Fly Fire, officials will usually start using the name of the larger fire for both.
Last year, unusual thunderstorms sparked numerous fires in California. “When they all work together they become a complex fire,” Ms. Round said.
This was the case with the August complex, the largest fire on record in California, which burned more than a million acres last year. It ignited in August, heralding the early start of a record-breaking fire season.
Sometimes there will not be a significant landmark near the ignition point of a fire. Civil servants will therefore be creative. (Or not.)
For example, in the summer of 2015, authorities described a fire in southeast Idaho as “Not Creative,” according to reports. A spokeswoman for the Idaho Lands Department told NPR the name was chosen after a long day of fighting the fires.