Sometimes fire officials get creative. Sometimes not, which is how a fire came to be named “Not Creative.”,
Dixie. August Complex. Not Creative.
The top three finishers in the Belmont Stakes? No, those are the names of wildfires that have burned across the American West in recent years.
Unlike hurricanes, which are given human names from a list chosen in advance by the World Meteorological Organization, wildfires get their names in a much more intuitive way: Whatever makes it the easiest for firefighters to find a blaze and for nearby residents to consistently track the fire’s path.
Some of those burning right now include the South Yaak Fire in Montana (after the Yaak Valley), the Tamarack Fire in California (after a town) and the nation’s largest blaze this year, the Dixie Fire (after a nearby road).
Usually, fires get their names based on where they originate, fire officials have said. They’re named for winding rural roads, nearby landmarks or mountain peaks.
Although the Dixie Fire started some distance from where Dixie Road appears on maps, Rick Carhart, a Butte County spokesman for Cal Fire, California’s state fire agency, said it demonstrates how “remote and inaccessible” the blaze was for firefighters.
“Even though it didn’t start on the side of Dixie Road, it was the closest thing,” he said. Mr. Carhart noted that Dixie Road appears close to Camp Creek Road, after which 2018’s deadly Camp Fire was named.
Lynnette Round, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire, said that also means multiple blazes can end up with the same name.
There has been more than one River Fire, for instance. And in 2017, during a busy year, the blaze that came to be known as the Lilac Fire in San Diego County was actually the fifth one to be given that name.
Ms. Round said the first fire officials on the scene often name a blaze, and the moniker is almost never changed.
“If it changes, you’ll confuse people,” she said. Residents who have fled their homes might not know which fire they should be paying attention to if names shift. And fire officials might get confused about where to send resources.
Sometimes, fires burn together and effectively merge. If that happens, as it did with the Dixie Fire and the Fly Fire, officials will typically start using the larger fire’s name for both.
Last year, unusual lightning storms sparked many fires across California. “When they all run together, they become a complex fire,” Ms. Round said.
Such was the case with the August Complex, the largest fire on record in California, which burned more than a million acres last year. It ignited in August, heralding the early start of a record-breaking fire season.
Occasionally, there won’t be a significant landmark close to a fire’s ignition point. So officials will get creative. (Or not.)
That’s how, during the summer of 2015, officials named a blaze in southeast Idaho “Not Creative,” according to reports. A spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Lands told NPR the name was selected after a long day of firefighting.