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Breakdown: Why do wildfires have names and who names them?

Published: May. 6, 2022 at 7:13 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Every year, wildfires wreak havoc, scorching thousands of acres and forcing widespread evacuations, primarily across the Southwest United States.

But wildfires are no stranger to Tennessee, either.

This year, both the Hatcher Mountain Wildfire and the Millstone Gap Wildfire burned thousands of acres in Sevier County.

In 2016, the Chimney Tops 2 Fire was originally reported on November 23, and five days later, it had reached the city of Gatlinburg.

It was just one of the dozens burning across East Tennessee due to an extended period of dry and windy conditions. In all, these wildfires at most notably known as the Gatlinburg wildfires.

But where do these names come from? And who names them?

Unlike hurricane names, which come from predetermined lists by the World Meteorological Organization, wildfire names are a bit more arbitrary.

There isn’t a set rule on how a fire is named. However, most names are assigned by whatever makes it the easiest for firefighters to find a blaze and for nearby residents to consistently track the fire’s path.

Typically, fires are often named after the area where they start — this can be a geographical location, a local landmark, a mountain or a peak a stream, lake, canyon, trail or ridge or a street, etc.

In some cases, fires are named simply for the towns or counties in which they originate.

These names usually come from either dispatch centers or the incident commanders who arrive first to the fires.

The benefit of naming fires is to provide a common way to reference them for each of the agencies and departments involved, as well as dispatchers, the public and the media.

These names make a difference for fire personnel because they provide an additional locator for the fire and allow them to track and prioritize events by name.

You can track Tennessee wildfires here. To learn about national fire information and/or wildfire safety, click here.

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