Answer Man — How are wildfires named?

Dear Answer Man,

How are the names picked for forest fires, and who picks them?

Question markSometimes they seem to be named after really vague geographic areas instead of things that are readily recognizeable. For example, nobody knows where Smith Creek is unless you live in West Kelowna.

Why wasn’t it called the West Kelowna fire?


Dear S.A.,

I’ve sometimes wondered the same thing myself. The West Kelowna fire is a good example.

When the media report on wildfires they always try to describe it in relation to a geographic landmark people recognize. For example, “the Smith Creek fire near West Kelowna,” or “the Red Deer Creek fire southeast of Tumbler Ridge.”

Why not just name the fire “the West Kelowna Fire” or “the Tumbler Ridge fire, indeed”?

Fire information officer Kelsey Winter at the Kamloops Fire Centre says the closest geographic name to wherever the fire starts is generally used for the name.

Maka-Murray wildfire. (B.C. Wildfire Management photo)

Maka-Murray wildfire. (B.C. Wildfire Management file photo)

“For example, the Draught Hill fire is on the lee side of Draught Hill,” she said.

That’s the 30-hectare fire that sprang up Thursday near the Okanagan Connector and caused the evacuation of a nearby home. Why not call it “the Okanagan Connector fire” so people can more easily visualize where it is?

For one thing, highway names aren’t used because they’re too general. It could also have been called the West Kelowna fire — but there was already a fire there a couple of weeks ago, in a different spot. Hence the need to be more specific.

Another criterion is to avoid using names that have already been used. For example, you won’t see a new fire being named “the McLure fire” or “Strawberry Hill fire” because people associate those fires with specific wildfire events and reusing the names would just confuse things. And let’s hope we don’t have a repeat of those terrible fires of 2003 anyway.

Who decides what to call a new wildfire when it’s discovered? The regional wildfire co-ordinating officer usually picks the name along with wildfire information officers.

Is picking the names fun? “I’d rather not have to name any wildfires at all,” said Kelsey.

No doubt, naming new stars or species of bugs is more fun than naming natural disasters.


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About Mel Rothenburger (8416 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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