Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What's In A Fire Name?

It's mid-April and much of the state is already in a perpetual swath of "red flag warning" alerts on Wunderground for fire danger. If I follow the news correctly, firefighters just finished containing the "Lumbre" fire near Vaughn and are in process on putting out the "Ojo Feliz" fire north of Mora. The danger has become at this point a semi-permanent fixture for New Mexico.

I could get into my personal beliefs about global warming (and it's interesting to use the word "belief" in reference to human-influenced meteorological phenomenon) and my limited understanding of "La Nina", so I'll just focus on something that's bothered me regarding the fires for some time. Namely, how do we name these things?

Who gets the job of naming these fires, and why are the names almost universal in their bewildering obscurity? I know there must be a rhyme/reason to the process, and that putting monikers on them like "that big ass fire over there" doesn't relate significant information, but how much useful information is being generated by giving names like "Lumbre" and "Ojo Feliz"? What's the percentage of New Mexicans who would respond to terms like "Lumbre" by saying, "what the Hell is that?" and "Ojo Feliz" by saying, "is that the bar in Jemez Springs or that village with the hot baths up past Espanola?"

Which gets me to an idea. Let's put in a system to naming fires similar to the hurricane naming thing. Why should the hurricane-naming World Meteorological Organization (WMO) get all the fun, when we could create a New Mexico Big-Ass Fire Organization (BAFO) whose job it would be to create a list of annual alphabetized names to rattle off as the inevitable conflagrations start up around the state.

BAFO could get the kids involved by starting up a naming contest every Winter for the upcoming year. School districts and teachers could stop the continuous cycle of testing and more testing to have one day of in-class brainstorming to think of a new batch of names for the next year's fires. BAFO could pick the winners ala the Spelling Bee.

Fires that proved to be really awful could have their names retired by BAFO, leaving us all to remember them in a vaguely twisted nostalgia: "man, I remember Fire Betsy back in '07, now that was some big-ass fire."

The way I see it, the fire danger is pretty much a fixture on the NM scene for, well, forever. We might as well have some fun with it. Naming things "Lumbre" and "Ojo Feliz" just reminds people that they suck at geography and that "ojo" is Spanish for "eye" ("Lucky/Happy Eye"...what kind of name for a fire is that?)

We might not be able to stop the weather patterns or our influence on them, but we sure as heck can put better names on 'em than "Lumbre". If we can spend $300,000+ to change TVI to Central New Mexico Community College, why can we spend a few bucks to give our new permanent friend, the out-of-control fire, a name as well?

The fires are now part of our state...our collective culture. Let's slap some real names on 'em.


Evan said...

And may I be the first, as a New Mexico student, to suggest that the first new fire of the season be named "Fire Petunia." Hey, I think I see it now.....off in the distance....there!

Michelle Meaders said...

Maybe they are named for the USGS topo map they show up on.

By the way, ojo can also mean a spring.