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Ever Wondered How Wildfires Get Named?

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Ever Wondered How Wildfires Get Named?

In the summer of 1999, I was one of hundreds of firefighters fighting to stop the Sheepeater Complex. Earlier that summer, I spent a week in the Oregon woods on the Big Dipper fire. And those aren’t even the stranger ones. A few years ago, the Biscuit fire grabbed national headlines.

Daniel Engbar of Slate thought that the Burnt Bread fire was a pretty funny name, and decided to do some investigating on how wildfires get named. What he found lined up pretty well with my experience as a U.S. Forest Service Hotshot and Smokejumper: the crew performing IA (Initial Attack) on the fire generally gets naming rights. As a type IV Incident Commander, I never had the chance to name any of the fires that I was on, but maybe that’s for the best. The IA crew leader only makes the naming suggestion: dispatchers and the local forest leadership get to have the final say over a fire’s name, making isn’t similar to other fires that are burning nearby, it isn’t offensive, and most of all it can be easily said over the radio.

Picture credit: Rachel C. Smith 2004, All rights reserved. Prescribed Fire in Scotland.

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