How Wildfires Get Named

Wildfires, like major storms, are named for ease of communication and historical reference. But unlike hurricane names which are chosen from a pre-determined list each season, wildfires are labeled on a rolling basis.

According to CalFire, a wildfire is named as soon as it is reported. The moniker is usually selected by the dispatcher who takes the call or the initial first responders on the scene. Driven largely by geography, the names reflect a landmark such as a canyon, creek, or road, near where the fire started. For the sake of simplicity, they often tend to be one word titles. Although efficient, this can lead to some ominous or misleading names such as the “Witch Fire” of 2007 in San Diego or the “Easy Fire” that is currently burning in Simi Valley, CA.

If a fire occurs repeatedly in the same place, it will get a name and number such as “Bear Fire 2” or “Canyon Fire 3”.

While this may seem like a free-wheeling way to do things, the National Interagency Fire Center offers guidelines for the best practices in naming a fire. They advise against using the names of people, companies, or private property. They also discourage the use of “deadman” in any fire name.

Regardless of how arbitrarily selected or innocuous a name may sound, fires will ultimately be remembered for the destruction they cause.

Kincade Fire 2019. Credit: KTVU

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About Melissa Fleming

Melissa Fleming is an environmental communicator and visual artist working at the intersection of art and science. She is passionate about exploring, learning, and sharing information about the natural world. She has presented her interdisciplinary work in a variety of mediums at venues and conferences around the world.