How wildfires get their names

How wildfires get their names

18 June 2015

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USA — AZ–Wildfires are named, but why is this done and how do they come up with the names?

The dispatch center sending the initial crews to a wildfire usually will name it. Wildfires can also be given a name by the first on-scene engine or fire official. The naming of a fire is important because it gives crews and fire managers a name to track and prioritize fires.

Names for fires usually come from geographical location, local landmark, streets, lakes, or mountains that happen to be near the fire’s origin. The Aspen fire in the Catalina Mountains was named because it started near the Aspen trail head.

Sometimes there are not enough landmarks in an area to give fires a unique name. In 2010, the Horseshoe fire burned in the Chiricahua Mountains. The next year another fire started in nearly the same area. Firefighters gave this fire the name “Horseshoe 2.”

The name of a fire does not always have to reflect the exact location of the fire. In the Pacific Northwest firefighters named a blaze the Sour Biscuit fire because it was near Sourdough Gulch and Biscuit Creek. The Burnt Bread Fire got its name because it was burning near Sourdough Drainage.

Sometimes you will hear the word “complex” added to a fire name. When there are multiple fires in an area and they grow into each other, the entire “complex” is then given a single name. This allows fire managers to better handle the changing situation.

The Wallow Fire, named for the Bear Wallow Wilderness area where the fire originated, was a wildfire located in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico in the White Mountains near Alpine. This wildfire is considered the worst in Arizona history burning 538,049 acres or 840.7 square miles.

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