Wildfire Nomenclature

The creative naming of the recent Northern California wildfires seems anti-intuitive in this last gasp of The Oil Age, an era in which global warming ensures the destruction will continue.

The wildfires that have ripped through Wine Country since Oct. 8, killing 42 people, injuring hundreds and destroying 5,700 structures so far, were given the usual colorful names: Atlas, Nuns, Tubbs, Redwood/Potter, Pocket, Cascade, Cherokee, La Porte, Sulphur and 37 Fire.

The names may well promote camaraderie and spirit among the courageous first-responders who get to name the fires, but they don’t seem to be necessarily useful in evacuations efforts or increasing public knowledge about a present fire threat. They also romanticize and anthropomorphize an inanimate weather event, which can deflect from the serious danger of the fires.

The basic system is that whoever shows up first to fight a specific fire gets to name it, according to media reports. Apparently fire department leaders can reject a particular name if it’s offensive or if they don’t like it for some other reason. In the past that might have been a good system that encourages teamwork among first responders and some of the names do reflect a geographical name in the area of the fire. But then the fire grows into areas with other geographical landmark names.

Basically, it’s a creative but potentially confusing system that could lead to more deaths and property damage.

Why not develop a nomenclature system that has real meaning? For example, why not just publicly name specific wildfires in specific major events by a numerical system that goes north to south by number and uses lettering that goes west to east? People would know Fire 1E is the northern most fire in any given wildfire event/area and is also burning to the east. Fire 12W is the southern most fire and is trending west. The numbers and lettering could change as the direction of the fires shift.

The numbering and lettering system could also be easier to synch up with specific weather alert and GPS applications on mobile devices and computers. People would know at once the broader location of the fires, could find more specific information about a fire easier and then take necessary precautions. Software could be developed that would use GPS technology to automatically name the fires.

That’s just one idea and is only meant to start a discussion or start some thinking on the issue. The main point is the name of any given fire would carry a precise meaning in terms of location and burn direction as possible for residents in the area where the wildfires are breaking out.

The naming of wildfires has a colorful and romantic history in California, but maybe it’s time to develop an understandable nomenclature that is solely aimed at saving lives and property.

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