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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The *Station* Fire? Who Chooses These Names? We Asked.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 1:20 PM

click to enlarge 'What's in a name? A fire, by any other name, would still smell as smoky...'
  • 'What's in a name? A fire, by any other name, would still smell as smoky...'
We've written a couple of stories about how San Francisco was asked to send fire strike teams to battle the massive Los Angeles-area blaze -- but demurred, stating the city couldn't spare the fire rigs.

That fire is now being officially referred to as "The Station Fire," while a smaller blaze that burned scores of houses up in Auburn has taken the moniker "The 49 Fire." Naturally we wondered who chooses these names -- and why. Luckily, we found someone who has named more than 100 fires to explain the process.

John Berger is the president of the National Firefighter Training & Carding Association in Philomath, Ore. He's personally christened scads of blazes and chemical spills -- "We deal with 100 spills or incidents a year and we name every one of them, me or one of my commanders." Unlike hurricanes, which are named by an overarching central body, fires are generally given a spur-of-the moment title by the first engine and crew to arrive on the scene.

"Generally, it would be the battalion chief who takes charge of the fire and becomes the incident commander after it gets going" who names the blaze, according to Berger. Geographic markers, roads, or landmarks often dictate what a fire will be named; generally firefighters use the same naming criteria that the Indians did in Dancing With Wolves. The one thing fire personnel are really not supposed to do when choosing a name is to use, well, names. Having one's business or personal identification tied in the public mind to a destructive fire is not generally a good thing. So you won't be seeing the "McDonald's Farm Fire" or "Uptown 7-11 Fire" anytime soon.

Occasionally, bureaucratic hoops are jumped through to change or merge fire names. Berger recalls a 2003 incident in which a pair of large Oregon fires, each of which happened to be given a name starting with "B" combined into one, gargantuan fire. Fire personnel, in conjunction with the forest service, agreed to rename the combined conflagration the "B and B Complex Fire."

As to who named the Station and 49 Fires and why, we're not certain at this time (though we did notice that The 49 Fire is located a stone's throw from Highway 49). Greg Renick, a spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency, is looking into it for us, but hasn't returned our call just yet.

We understand. He has other burning issues occupying him at the moment.

Update, 2:06 p.m.: Renick called back to inform us that The Station Fire is so named because it was sparked near the Angeles Crest Ranger Station. Intuitively, The 49 Fire was named after Highway 49.

Photo   |   Nevada Department of Public Safety

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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