It is unusual for a large fire to have more than two words in the fire’s name, not counting the word “fire”. And it is not common for a fire name to be a multi-word phrase. Fire agency employees whose jobs entail completing forms or maintaining records get grumpy when they have to write or type over and over, a long fire name or one that may lead to misspelling.
A fire 17 miles southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico on the Cibola National Forest is named “Ojo de los Caso Fire”. Since it was reported on July 8 the blaze has burned 180 acres of timber, brush, and grass.
The names for many fires are derived from a nearby landmark. I asked the Fire Information Officer Andrea Chavez how the fire was named and what it means in English:
Depending on the map you look at, there are various colloquial names for a spring in Cañon de Chilili near the origin of this fire, including “ojo la casa” and “ojo los caso”. Therefore, firefighters initially on scene dubbed the fire Ojo de los Casos
Ojo de los Casos colloquially translates to Spring of the Cause. However, it is possible this name was derived from an older nomenclature, Ojo de Casa (House Spring), which has been found on older maps of the area.
On Wildfire Today we rarely regurgitate containment percentages that are put out by Incident Commanders, because the numbers are unreliable. I have seen too many large fires that had miles of cold fireline that officially had zero or 10 percent containment. Too often this number appears to be grabbed out of the air with no effort to be accurate. Other times it can be a conscious effort to deceive. An incident commander may think that by publicizing a low containment number, it can be easier to hang on to resources, or to rank higher in priority among fires that are competing for scarce resources. They may also think it makes it easier to justify maintaining evacuations. Other incident commanders actually base the containment on the portion of the perimeter where the spread has been stopped by a fireline.
The National Wildfire Coordinating Group has a very extensive glossary of wildland fire terms. Their definition of “contain” is:
The status of a wildfire suppression action signifying that a control line has been completed around the fire, and any associated spot fires, which can reasonably be expected to stop the fire’s spread.
The incident management team on the Ojo de los Casos Fire posted on InciWeb July 11 that the fire was 10 percent contained. They also described on InciWeb what containment means to them:
Percent containment is based off the actual amount of containment line that is safe enough to leave unattended without worries of heat, embers or hot spots flaring up and having potential to cross that line allowing additional growth of the fire.
I asked Ms Chavez where they got their definition. She said:
Our incident commander and operations personnel elaborated on [the NWCG] definition to provide more detail based on their many years of experience and training.
Later that day an update appeared on the fire’s InciWeb page that was devoted to the concept of containment. It reads in part,
Complete “containment” is the ultimate goal for the fire management team in command of fire suppression activities.
The ultimate goal of firefighters is to put out a fire, or “declare it out”. The step before that is control. And before that, containment.
Controlled — The completion of control line around a fire, any spot fires therefrom, and any interior islands to be saved; burned out any unburned area adjacent to the fire side of the control lines; and cool down all hotspots that are immediate threats to the control line, until the lines can reasonably be expected to hold under the foreseeable conditions.
The Incident Commander and the operations personnel on the Ojo de los Casos Fire are conflating Contain and Control.
In my mind, Contain is to have a good, solid fire line without a great deal of residual heat near the line. It would still require patrol and mopup but the spread has been stopped at that location. That leaves open the unlikely chance that the fire can cross that section of line if something unexpected happens.
Control is the next step — mopup is complete near the fire line, burning out is complete, snags have been dealt with. At 100 percent control the Incident Commander and the Operations Section Chief are staking their reputation on their assessments that the fire will not spread beyond the established firelines.
When a fire is “Out”, there is no combustion occurring.