Stop Naming Fires!

Remember L.A. Story? The Steve Martin and Sarah Jessica Parker rom-com was hilariously funny to this SoCal kid when it came out during my high school years. It might as well have been my life. 

Except for the fact that I never touched Sarah Jessica Parker’s boobs. Or fake boobs, in general. Heck, I’m 45 years old now and I still haven’t touched fake boobs. Seeing as how Wife is naturally endowed, I doubt I ever will. Unless you count when they’re skewered into my back like steel girders on a crowded BART train. If anything, those encounters probably played into my utter lack of desire to do anything more with them.

And sure, sure. Those are only BAD boob jobs. Whereas your expensive boob job are wonderful. Like vegetarian bacon.

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, L.A. Story. I doubt it stands the test of time, but at least it predicted text message abbreviations.

What got me thinking about it was the scene where Steve Martin realizes the date, which means it’s open season on L.A. freeways. He pulls a gun out of the glove compartment and everybody starts shooting at each other. Hilarity ensues.

Ah, the good old days, when Mother Nature sat idly by and watched while we all killed each other. Nowadays any human-to-human violence takes a smoke-filled back seat to the orange-skied behemoth smothering us all.

In case you’ve missed the stunning visuals, the entire state of California is on fire right now. As it was last year. And the year before. As we shout into our Zoom calls through COVID-infected lungs: It’s Fire Season, motherfucker!

Although to call it a “season” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s pretty much half the year. In 2018, for instance, my Camptathalon was cut short when we were evacuated due to the Donnell Fire, which razed our campsite less than twelve hours after we left. That was in August. Also in 2018, many school districts canceled school the Friday before Thanksgiving due to smoke from the Camp Fire. Not to be confused with a campfire, which we had to douse when we evacuated the campsite back in August. Or the Carr Fire, also in 2018, which had nothing to do with an automobile.

Incidentally, I looked up the Donnell Fire to verify its name. I googled “Dardanelles fire” since Dardanelles was the resort that burned down. More on the naming of fires in a bit.

According to Wikipedia, “The Donnell Fire was a wildfire that started on August 1, 2018 due to an unknown cause.” Bull fucking shit. That fire, like many others, started as a “controlled burn” that got out of hand. I have photographic proof, from a few days before our camping trip, of a perfect ring of fire, something I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist in nature. Check it out, complete with timestamp.

I’ve never understood why they choose the height of fire season to do these controlled burns. I assume it has something to do with foliage being too wet in April to clear out enough of the debris, but April would seem to prioritize the “controlled” part instead of the “burn” part. A couple weeks ago, with half the state burning and every firefighter elsewhere, we drove by signs reading “prescribed burning ahead, do not report.” When we woke up Sunday morning, smoke was on the horizon. Shocking.

I mean, it’s no gender reveal party, but it’s disconcerting that the professionals are setting fires, too.

Hey, what kind of names do you think they’re considering for the fetus who burned down the whole state? Since the orgiastic pyrotechnics were blue, it’s clearly a boy, so I doubt they’ll go with Fyre. Or whatever Drew Barrymore’s character was named in Firestarter. Would Sparky be too on-the-nose? How about Forrest, to appease the gods?

Turns out Drew Barrymore’s character was named Charlie. An androgynous name! Perfect!

Dumbass professionals and pregnants aside, I really don’t know what’s caused this sharp uptick in fires recently. The Democrats in my newsfeed swear it’s climate change. The Republicans in my newsfeed swear it’s that we’re not allowed to clear underbrush and make fire roads anymore. I assume the truth is somewhere in the middle. As usual, the problems we ignore are only exacerbated  by the problems we attempt to fix. So instead of a breathable climate with firebreaks, we’re left with a sweltering hellscape, complete with kindling!

But whatever. To butcher a Jimmy Buffett line, I ain’t tryin’ to reason with fire season. Like taxes, smarmy Amber Alert signs, and a governor who thinks he’s solved COVID-19 by changing “Phase I, II, III, and IV” to “Purple, Red, Orange, and Yellow tiers” (I wonder if he dropped the mic after that stroke of brilliance), if I want to live in the only state where teachers make enough to buy a steak a month, I’ve just got to make peace with six months of fire each year. 

It’s like hurricane season, only twice as long and with substantially more certainty. Even if my house isn’t specifically in danger, I’m still trapped inside. I think the air outside has more ash than oxygen. When I opened my door the other morning, it smelled like I was camping inside a BBQ. Except if I was at a campsite or a BBQ, I could be drinking at oh-dark-thirty. Whereas that would be frowned upon at work.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m teaching from home. Nobody would know except my laptop screen. I actually lectured after a couple beers for the first time in my professional career last week. Don’t worry, it wasn’t a live lecture, but I remembered at about 9:30 Labor Day night that I hadn’t recorded the instructions for the next day. Oops.

I remember when California’s most famous natural disaster was our earthquakes. People who live in Tornado Alley or Hurricane Avenue or Locust Boulevard would comment how they couldn’t possibly conceive of living where there are earthquakes.

The great thing about earthquakes , though, is by the time you realize we’re having an earthquake, it’s already over. We don’t have to build an underground earthquake shelter or pack up all of our shit three times a year to drive 1,000 miles away on the chance that this might be one of the bad earthquakes instead of the mundane ones. 

Instead it’s, “did you feel… wait, is that… are we having an… whew, glad that’s over.” Unless you happen to be driving on the lower level of a bridge.

But with fires, we get to experience the looming dread that the rest of the country has always faced. When it gets too windy or too still, or too humid or too dry, we look at each other and know that we better stock up on the N-95s. And that’s before we knew that the fertility gods are now requesting sacrifices of scorched earth.

But whatever. Much like the Gales facing the Kansas twister or the Florida meth whores peddling their wares during Hurricanes Neal and Bob, we’re adjusting to life in Fire-geddon. Hell, it’s 2020, if the world isn’t literally crumbling to embers in your corner of the woods, just wait a week. Oh sorry, “corner of the woods” is probably an offensive statement here in Fire State. Every corner of every woods in the state is now an ember.

The problem that I’m having with the last five years isn’t the fires themselves, but rather our incessant need to come up with quippy little names for said fires.

I never understood the penchant for naming hurricanes. Sure, it helps to distinguish one from another, but that can be done without proper names of real human beings. There’ve been studies about people not taking female-named hurricanes as seriously as male-named ones. I can’t say for certain that Hurricane 2020-B would be any more or less effective. At least then they’d only get useful monikers once they’ve become something we should give a shit about. 

As opposed to our current classification system, where they get their fancy pre-selected name as soon as one drop of rainwater hits the Atlantic Ocean. It starts as Tropical Depression then it’s Tropical Storm, and because it has a name, we’re kinda rooting for it, right? I had a tropical storm named after me a few years ago, and I was really hoping it would head to New Orleans, hang out on Bourbon Street for a while, maybe drink a hand grenade because hurricanes are so gauche. 

It never became a hurricane. Insert sad-trombone noise.

It could be worse. I could be named Katrina. Or Andrew. Sucks for those people. We all want our named storms to peter out around a Category I, right? Worthwhile enough to be noticed, but nothing that’ll be reviled throughout time.

But hey,  the worst two hurricanes have one female name and one male name. And beyond those two, we’ve got Harvey and Sandy, Ike and Maria. Huzzah for gender equality!

At least when they’re naming hurricanes, they do it ahead of time and try to pick non-specific names. Now that they’ve decided to start naming fires, all bets are off. They name it after the fact and try to be as cutesy as possible. I guess all those out-of-work military planners had to get a job somewhere. Remember Operation Enduring Freedom? Good thing we didn’t take a left at Fallujah or we might be calling it Operation Turgid Nipple.

I’ve already listed some of the fire names above. The Carr Fire and the Camp Fire. Really? Oh what giggles must’ve erupted about the command center when those names were posited. “Sure, the town of Paradise is burning to the ground as we speak but, follow me here, guys. Camp Fire. Get it? Campfire? Oh, I’m so clever.”

They come up with some bogus bullshit about the fire starting near Carr Road or Camp Farm or whatever, but it’s clear they’re just trying to be clever. Hey, let me see if there was a Homeowners’ Ass. anywhere near the conflagration and I can call it the Ass Complex.

I perused the Cal Fire website while writing this. Check out some of the names: Oak Fire, Willow Fire, Lake Fire, Valley Fire, and Creek Fire. Clearly somebody was watching Animal Planet recently, because we’ve recently added a Bobcat Fire and a Sheep Fire. There’s also a Schoolhouse Fire. 

“Good thing all of our schools are canceled because of the plague, right boys? C’mon, up top!”

There’s a fire called the Lightning Fire, which may or may not have been caused by lightning. I say “may not,” because there were a lot of lightning fires (we had thunderstorms in mid-August) so it seems odd to name just one of them Lightning Fire. And we’re obviously not naming these fires after their causes or else we’d have “Dumbass Hipster Fire” and “Uncontrolled Control Burn Fire.” There’s an “August Complex Fire,” too. I have learned that a complex fire are when two or more fires merge. So the “August Complex Fire” mentions it was formerly known as the “Doe Fire.” Animal Planet Dude strikes again.

The problem with these names is that they’re confusing as hell, and when I want to check and see if anything is contained or if I’m ever going to see blue skies again, I first have to guess what clever name they’ve come up with. For instance, the county next door to me, bordering Sacramento, is named “El Dorado County.” The “El Dorado Fire,” meanwhile, is 500 miles away in Riverside County.

Imagine if the hurricanes were only named after they had already struck, and then were named random shit like “Cloud Hurricane” or “Wet Hurricane.” Or “Beaver Hurricane.” Then add in that “Texas Hurricane” just ravaged the coast of South Carolina.

I understand that, when there are twenty fires raging at any given time, there’s got to be a way to classify them. But guess what? Those of us living through this shit have come up with a much better classification system. The city that’s getting evacuated becomes the classification for the fire. Camp Fire, my ass. It was the Paradise Fire. Just ask Netflix.

Here’s the conversation I had at work last week.

“It was starting to clear up, but now it’s back. Is this smoke still from the San Jose fire?”

“No, I think that one’s mostly contained. I think this new smoke is from Fresno.”

“Really? Fresno’s an awfully long way away.”

“Whatever happened to the Auburn Fire? Wasn’t that blanketing you house last week?”

“No. Turns out the Auburn fire was minor. I thought it was that, but I was getting Vacaville.”

Super tough, huh?

Although I bet the forthcoming Cougar Fire will be nice and caliente.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

Some Statins, Stat! | The Writing WombatOctober 8, 2020 at 11:46 am

[…] going with all of the fires going on, like the snazzy new “Glass Fire,” proving that I’m a fucking Nostradamus who nobody heeds. Nope, what he really wants to talk to me about is how important it is that I get my normal […]

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