Unlike major storms or hurricanes who get their names from a predetermined list by the World Meteorological Organization, wildfire names are a bit more arbitrary, and sometimes even made up on the fly! Find out more about how they are named below.
What’s in a name?
Most wildfire names are assigned by either dispatch centers or the incident commanders who are the first to respond to a fire. They are usually named after the closest physical landmark, street, road sign, or a nearby geological feature like a lake, creek, mountain range, peak, canyon, or trail. In some cases, fires are named simply for the towns or counties in which they originate. The benefit of naming fires is to provide a common way to reference them for each of the agencies and departments involved, as well as dispatchers, the public, and the media.
The National Interagency Fire Center has set forth some basic guidelines for naming fires:
- The fire name needs to be relatively unique. If two separate fires are burning near the same geographic features, append a number at the end, such as Ragweed 1 and Ragweed 2.
- Don’t use a name on a new fire that is already currently in use somewhere else in the nation.
- Don’t add generic feature descriptions such as “peak” or “creek” or street names. For example, if the fire is along Silver Drive, call it the Silver Fire. A fire along Jones Creek would become the Jones Fire.
- Don’t use names that are “potentially prophetic, hyperbolical, or distastefully descriptive such as ‘Deadman’ or ‘Firestorm.'”
- Avoid using a name that was previously used in a historic or catastrophic fire.
- Don’t name it after a person “aside from a historical person’s name used for a location or feature that is otherwise suitable for the fire name.”
- Don’t use slang, wordplay, or anything that could be found insensitive or offensive.
- Don’t name a fire after private property, a commercial business, or anything protected by trademark. That means no “Spiderman” Fire or “Oreo” Fire, for example.
- Don’t name the fire after a potential ignition source, even if the source is known, such as “Youth Group BBQ Fire”. Also, don’t name after an ignition source that implies liability, such as Powerline Fire or Pipeline Fire. (Yes, that would seem to contradict the previous “Pipeline Fire” that was burning in Arizona, but that fire got its name from the nearby underground natural gas pipeline that runs between Flagstaff and the San Francisco Peaks, according to Coconino National Forest officials. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.)
- Finally: If there is any doubt, assign the fire another name.
Let’s get creative! (or not)
Occasionally firefighters have a tough time thinking of a name, especially when a wildfire isn’t close to a well-known landmark or feature. In these cases, fires could be named almost anything, and we have certainly seen some very creative or unusual wildfire names come to be.
In 2015 a fire started in southeastern Idaho. It was the state’s 57th fire of the season, and responders struggled to come up with a unique name that would differentiate it from previously reported blazes- according to this NPR report. With no obvious landmarks nearby, and after a long day in the field, officials decided to just call it the “Not Creative Fire.”
Another example is the “Midnight Fire,” which was burning in New Mexico in June of 2022. According to Fox Weather, it got its name from the time of day, not a nearby landmark or feature.
“The Midnight Fire earned its name from the several-hour hike that it took to locate it after it was reported,” fire officials told FOX Weather. “Crews didn’t arrive on the scene until midnight due to the remote and rugged terrain in the backcountry.”
The Name Game.
What does a Smashed Taco, Kid Rock, and Flying Monkeys have in common?
Here’s a hint- they aren’t the names of new hit bands or trendy restaurants. According to this article by Texas A&M Forest Service, they are all wildfires from the Texas A&M 2022 fire season.
In East Texas, wildfires are a frequent event and are only given a specific name if they are large enough to meet the criteria (burning over 100 acres in forest fuels and over 300 acres in grass fuels)
To put into perspective how many unique wildfire names were born, the article states that between Dec. 9 and Aug. 29, Texas A&M Forest Service crews responded to 1,725 wildfires burning nearly 600,000 acres. That’s a lot of names!
Though wildfires aren’t taken lightly, it’s interesting to know where their sometimes unusual and unique names originate from.