ASU Professor Dr. Stephen Pyne on Arizona Fire Season: Who Names Fires?

ASU Professor Dr. Stephen Pyne on Arizona Fire Season: Who Names Fires?

18 May 2012

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USA — Wildfire season is in full swing in Arizona; Four fires are currently burning throughout the state.

The Gladiator Fire has burned almost 10,000 acres and is 5 percent contained, the Bull Flat Fire, in Fort Apache Indian Reservation, is more than 2,000 acres, and is 50 percent contained, the Elwood Fire, in the San Carlos Indian Reservation, covers almost 1,500 acres and is at least 5 percent contained, and and the Sunflower Fire, which has consumed more than 14,000 acre, is 15 percent contained according to fire officials this morning.

Dr. Stephen Pyne, who spent 15 years as a wildland firefighter at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, now teaches at Arizona State University and is an expert on the history and management of fire. We caught up with Pyne to talk about the naming of fires in the United States.

“Different agencies name fires different ways,” says Pyne. “The Forest Service traditionally uses a single word taken from a nearby geographic feature. This can seem absurd or idiotic as, for example, with the Wallow fire or Warm fire (Wallow as abbreviated from Bear Wallow and Warm from Warm Springs). When multiple fires occur around the same vicinity, they number them as well – Horseshoe 2 fire, eg. The forest dispatcher usually contributes the name.”

Pyne also notes that different agencies have different protocols. “The National Park Service, where I worked (back in the Age of Dirt), let the fire boss (now, incident commander) name the fire, and we could use more than one word. We named fires for any and all reasons.”

He also discusses the naming of fires in his book, Fire on the Rim: A Firefighter’s Season at the Grand Canyon. Pyne writes:

Unlike the Forest Service, which names fires only after existing geographic places, we name fires for any reason. We name after girlfriends. There is a Carol, a Lynn, a Kate fire. When Tom receives a “Dear John” letter, the Shauna fire is redesignated the Disappointment fire. When Stone wants to name a second, larger lire after Carol, we name it after the great Carolinian, Charlemagne. We name fires for events or natural phenomena. There are Morning, Sunrise, Evening, Star, Sandy, and Rainbow fires. When everyone from 176 goes to a fire, it becomes the 176 fire. When the Cosmic Cowboys vow to “return by 7:00 P.M.” that evening, they hurry to the BB7 (Back By 7).
A fire on the Fourth of July becomes the Independence fore. The first fires of the year take names like Shakedown, Preamble, Prologue, Kickoff, Inauguration. When the season opener, long delayed, appears at Cape Final, it becomes the Finally fire. Closing fires take names like Farewell, Epilogue, So Long, 10-7, Adiós. A crew birder names fires after grosbeaks, ilickers, and owls; a physicist names them for high-energy accelerators like SLAC and CERN; a Mexican-food devotee gives us the Taco, Frijole, and Enchilada fires. No one has ever found the Phantom fire. The Poltergeist withstands three attempts before it is ultimately located.


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