NEVADA CITY, Calif. September 19, 2016 – When the Auburn Fire started in Grass Valley on Sept. 17, 2016 many residents were wondering why the fire was named after a neighboring town. So, how do fires get their name?
Closest feature for the win
Traditionally, fires are named after the closest geographic feature, be that a road, a river or a landmark. In the case of the Auburn Fire, it was reported to 911 as being on South Auburn Street near Whiting Street, hence the “Auburn” Fire. Generally, dispatchers name the fire while they are sending the initial engines to the incident.
Easy and “safe” to hear on the radio
There is no official rule book for naming a fire, but a few considerations are:
Must be easy to hear over the radio, even with helicopters overhead, fire crackling or winds howling.
Shorter is better. A fire on Mushroom Trail across from Rex Reservoir was named Rex, instead of Mushroom.
Safe, as in PG-rated. A fire on Jackass Flats Road will most likely be named Jack or Flats. In addition to risqué names, dispatchers avoid names that could inadvertently lead to an Incident Commander being “called names” over the radio.
Do names change?
Yes, but rarely. In 2001, a fire started near Hell Hole Reservoir. The fire was initially called the Hellhole, but then changed to Red Star because of its proximity to the Red Star Mine. It ended up as the Star Fire.
California might be different but I know in Oregon the official reporting the fire designates the fire name. Case in point, a small fire in the Mt. Hood National Forest was designated the Lemmons Fire after a USFS/BLM firefighter who passed away while fighting a wildfire.
In California, dispatchers name the fire. It’s rare for the first responding unit to change the name of a fire. Next time you post, do use your full name please.
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