Since the start of the Sherpa Fire last Wednesday afternoon, confusion has reigned over the proper spelling of the fire’s name. In the first few hours of concern and confusion over where the blaze started, where it was headed, and how many people and homes it threatened, some emergency responders referred to the incident as the “Sherpa Fire” in written communications while other public safety agencies called it the “Scherpa Fire,” with a “c.” News organizations did the same, choosing one spelling over the other, which created dueling social-media hashtags and head-scratching among readers.
Here’s why that happened, according to a spokesperson with the U.S. Forest Service, one of the Sherpa’s lead firefighting agencies:
Fires are typically assigned names based on a geographic location near where they started. In this case, the blaze sparked on La Scherpa Ranch in the eastern Santa Ynez Mountains. The very first written dispatches on the incident, however, misspelled it “Sherpa,” without the “c,” and it stuck. Lee Beyer with the U.S. Forest Service said once the name of a fire is entered into the national fire reporting and naming system, it can’t be changed — doing so would confuse administrators, make the name unsearchable in records, and so on.
So, Beyer summed up, even though it’s spelled incorrectly, the official name of this week’s Santa Barbara fire is the Sherpa Fire. A spokesperson with California’s interagency management team made it a point to apologize for the typo.
While The Independent had been using “Scherpa” in its daily reports since last Wednesday, we’ve decided to switch to the alternate spelling in future stories in hopes of avoiding any further confusion.