Fire dispatcher explains how wildfires are named

Fire dispatcher explains how wildfires are named

30 July 2014

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USA — Wildfire season is in full swing and that got us thinking. How are wildfires named? You hear some unique ones floating around like Hell Roaring and Whiskey. Who comes up with them?

Turns out, there’s a national standard for naming wildfires. We talked with fire dispatchers in Boise to find out how each name is chosen.

“It is a requirement of the job to be a good multitasker,” Nicole Oke said. She works as an initial attack dispatcher for the Boise National Forest and Idaho Department of Lands.

Oke helps coordinate aircraft used in the wildfire fight.

She told us fires of all sizes are named, even if they burn less than an acre. Those names are based on geography.

“They’ll take the closest geographical location of a name that hasn’t been used yet,” said Oke.

The same name can’t be used twice in a year. But Oke says because fires often start in the same places year after year, you’ll hear the same names.

“Simco Road is a good example. We almost always have a fire down by Simco Road or a fire down by Black’s Creek,” she said.

Generally, dispatchers like to find a nearby creek to name a new fire. That’s how the Whiskey Complex that burned thousands of acres near Garden Valley got its name.

The series of fires within the Complex are close to Whiskey Creek.

“If we have another fire in that area, we’ll go to the next closest geographical location and use that for a name,” said Oke of how the system works.

Naming fires after geographical locations is a national standard. In addition to creeks, fire managers could also choose a nearby mountain or landmark. During busy fire seasons, sometimes more random names are used. Oke says that happened one summer when she was working in Elko.

“So, they started naming them just off the tops of their heads. I believe we had a Pepsi Fire and a Coke Fire,” said Oke.

For the most part that’s rare, but fire season is unpredictable and some fire managers could find themselves in a situation where all geographical locations near a new fire start are used up.

By the way, the Preacher fire near Carey was named after the Preacher Bridge. Meanwhile, Twin Falls District fire officials say the Hell Roaring Fire was named after Hell Roaring Creek.

The Kitten Complex west of Vale, Oregon is burning near Kitten Canyon.

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