Why the Kitten Complex isn't a cat lady's problem

Why the Kitten Complex isn't a cat lady's problem »Play Video
The Hell Roaring Fire. Photo by Barb Niewert via InciWeb

EUGENE, Ore. - Some wildfire names you learn because you can't avoid the smoke, like the 2009 Tumblebug blaze.

The smoke from that fire near Oakridge made the air in Eugene unhealthy to breathe.

Others likes the Biscuit and the B&B become household terms thanks to politics.

Some seem absurd, like the Kitten Complex now burning in Eastern Oregon.

Others earn eerily appropriate names, like the July 4 fire that broke out in Idaho dubbed the Hell Roaring Fire.

So what's in a name? Flames: Every wildfire gets a unique monicker, whether the public ever hears it or not.

Consider last summer's brush fire on West 11th Avenue. Have you ever heard it referred to as the Vinche Fire? In the offical annals of wildland firefighting, that's the July 2013 blaze that closed Highway 126.

Matt Mackey, wildland fire supervisor for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said that 99 percent of the time fire names, like the Vinche, are based on geographic locations.

"Instead of naming it Highway 126 number 5 fire for that year, we want something a little more specific," he said. "That way people aren't lost kind of going to that fire."

"This land was surveyed many years ago… it was pretty much up to the responsibility of the surveyers to kind of name all the geographic regions."

Mackey said the firefighters first on scene will name a fire. This way crews know where the fire is located and dispatchers can keep track of resources.

And whether a fire is the size of a table or a county, it gets a name.

But when there isn't a creek, mountain or lookout nearby, Mackey said firefighters get creative.

"One of the fires happened to start near Kitten Canyon," he said. "So you're looking at that and say oh well that happened to be in the area, got a catchy name, let's call it the Kitten Complex."

As for why it's called Kitten Canyon, Mackey said the surveyors and cartographers who mapped and labeled Oregon are to blame.

"There's going to be one really good story behind why it was called Kitten Canyon to begin with," he said, "but that's all part of history."