So now we name fires?

I’m noticing that forest fires and other wildfires get names now, much in the same way that hurricanes and tropical storms do. Just now I heards something on NPR about The Bear Fire, which is currently happening, and recall hearing a few other fire names since the beginning of the current fire season. Unfortunately I can’t remember any of those other names save one: the unimaginitively named “Old Fire” from a few months ago. “Old fire”? Compared to what? Is there a New Fire, too?

As in these examples, the names often have little to do with the location.

Has anyone else noticed this new trend, and know anything else about it? Have the various fire agencies involved always named fires, and it’s only now that the broadcasters have started to use them?

I think the fire fighters have named the fires because it makes things easier when it comes to writing reports and such. You can describe one blaze that takes several days as one event.

Out here in California, we didn’t hear the names too much until last year’s wildfires when there were so many that the names were needed to keep track of which was which.

It’s not a new trend. It’s been in existence for quite a long time.

Fires are usually named according to a geographic feature near the origin of the fire. However, political considerations come into play. The 2002 Oregon fire known as the Florence Fire was named for its proximity to a small creek of the same name on the Siskiyou National Forest. However, confusion immediately associated the fire with the coast community of Florence, Oregon. It was changed to the Biscuit Fire.

In 2003 a small fire on the Mt. Hood National Forest was called the Bowl Fire. White water rafting along the Clackamas River is popular all year and all reaches, rapids and holes have names. A particularly dangerous hole is by Fish Creek, called the “Toilet Bowl”, a swirling vortex surrounded by cliffs that looks exactly like the water being flushed down a toilet. So when the fire popped, it was naturally named the “Toilet Bowl Fire.” Apparently, the District was soundly admonished for assigning an inappropriate name to a fire and it was dubbed the, “Bowl Fire.”

I was on a fire in Yellowstone 20 some odd years ago that started near the South Entrance. The closest named geographic feature was Forest Lake. We wanted to call it – wait for it – the, “Forest Fire,” but got overruled. It was called the Forest Lake Fire.

Naming fires makes them easier to remember, at the time of the fire, as well as long after the fact. Remember that fire in Colorado where all those firefighters died back in 1994? Many of us remember the Storm King Fire not because we lost friends, but because we thought we learned from it. Tell it to the four who died in 2001 in the Thirty Mile Fire.

The Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin killed more people than any other fire in history but is little known since it occurred the same day as the Great Chicago Fire.

The fires in 1902 in Oregon and Washington were so large and numerous, the smoke effectively blacked out both states. The Yacolt Burn (Yacolt Fire) of 1902 in southwest Washington State consumed 238,920 acres (not that big today when you consider the current Taylor Highway Complex Fires in Alaska are only 15 percent contained as of this morning, with 986,379 acres burned so far), but most of that Yacolt Fire acreage burned in less than 36 hours.

For a current list of wildfires and their names, go to