Did a campfire ignite the Camp Fire? How wildfires get their names

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The devastating Carr Fire in July may have been sparked by a flat tire, but that’s not how the wildfire got its name. And the Camp Fire now blazing through Butte County didn’t start in a campfire pit.

So just how do wildfires get their names — sometimes prosaic, sometimes downright weird?

Fires normally are named by the dispatch center that sends the initial responders to the blaze, though in some cases they’re named by the first firefighters on the scene, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“Quickly naming the fire provides responding fire resources with an additional locator, and allows fire officials to track and prioritize incidents by name,” reported the agency. 

Fires normally are named by location, often a nearby street, river, lake, mountain or other landmark, according to Cal Fire.

For example, the Carr Fire, which destroyed 1,000 homes and killed eight people near Redding before reaching full containment in August, got its name not for the flat tire that sparked it July 23 but for nearby Carr Powerhouse Road, reported The San Francisco Chronicle.

The Camp Fire in Butte County in Northern California, which has burned 109,000 acres, killed 23 people and destroyed 6,453 homes as of Sunday morning, got its name from Camp Creek Road, reported KXTV.

And the Woolsey fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties in Southern California, which has burned 83,275 acres, killed two people and destroyed 177 homes as of Saturday night, was named for Woolsey Canyon Road, reported the Los Angeles Daily News.

But the somewhat haphazard approach to naming wildfires can produce groan-worthy monikers, reported The New York Times.

“You could have a fire by a landfill — and they might call it the Dump Fire,” Heather Williams, a Cal Fire spokeswoman said, according to the publication. “Sometimes the names come through and it’s like, ‘Really guys?’ ”

In Idaho in 2015, firefighters who’d already battled a seemingly endless series of blazes came up empty when the time arrived to christen a new wildfire, which then became known as the Not Creative Fire, reported National Public Radio.

The 416 Fire in Colorado in June, meanwhile, got its system-generated name simply because it was the 416th incident — not necessarily all fires — reported by the Durango Interagency Dispatch Center in the San Juan National Forest, reported the U.S. Forest Service.