How do wildfires get their names?

Ever notice that wildfires seem to have generic names like the Valley Fire or seemingly random names like the Waldo Fire and wonder where wildfires get their names? Here at RedZone we took a look what the standards are for the wildfire naming criteria and the top names used historically in our wildfire database.

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Example of wildfire names used during the San Diego Complex in May of 2014

Interestingly, the answer isn’t as easy as the pre-determined alphabetical order of our Pacific and Atlantic hurricanes. Most often the name is determined by the initial attack incident commander or the fire dispatcher. The name is generally based on the geographic location of the fire or a nearby geographic feature, i.e. mountain, canyon, valley, river, etc. More often it is the name of the road where the fire was reported. For example, if a new wildfire began near Green Lake, it might become the “Lake” Fire or the “Green” Fire. But, if either or both of those names were already used by the first response unit that calendar year, then the dispatcher may decide to coin the fire as the “Green Lake” Fire to be more specific. Another common occurrence is the use of a sequential-type name such as the “Lake 2” Fire for areas where few geographic names exist or where a fire name has been used that calendar year already. The last naming type that’s often seen are wildfire complexes. This is where multiple separate wildfires are joined into one lone-named incident for wildfire management and also financing purposes.

Top Historic Fire Names

So as we can see, the answer isn’t as easy as the pre-determined alphabetical order of our Pacific and Atlantic hurricanes. Both oceans’ hurricane names are also retired after significant losses/cost take place; not the case with wildfires. When we looked at wildfire names going back to 1900 we found generic geographic names and tree types as the most commonly found, with Cottonwood, Bear, and Canyon leading the way. Favorite random names at RedZone we’ve come across include the Izzenhood and Poodle Fires in Nevada and the Carrot Fire in Wyoming.

Top Wildfire Names (1895-2010)

Name Count
Cottonwood 28
Bear 24
Canyon 24
River 23
Lake 21
Indian 18
Pine 18
Ranch 18
Rock 17
Highway 16

Historic large wildfire data shows generic geographic names lead the way when it comes to being assigned to an event.

 

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