Wildfire season has begun ominously early here in California. We're used to fires in September and October, after four or five rainless months, but last winter's near-drought created what the newsfolk like to call "tinderbox conditions." The Angora Fire, which started on June 24, is already the Lake Tahoe area's biggest wildfire in half a century: 3,100 acres consumed, 178 homes and 75 other structures destroyed. Firefighters don't expect to contain the fire until next Tuesday.
As always in California, politics and ecology play starring roles in the current disaster. (An alternate headline for the story could be "Nature bats last.") But my focus is language, so I want to talk about the name of the fire.
Unlike last year's Day Fire, which got its unusual name from the day it started (Labor Day), the Angora Fire was named in more typical fashion: after its geographic origin. The fire area comprises Angora Peak (elev. 8,658 feet), Angora Lake, and Angora Ridge Road. But there's no town named Angora in the vicinity, and "Angora" doesn't show up in the standard California place-name references, including Erwin Gudde's California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names. So the place name's origin is a bit of a mystery, at least to me.
The word "Angora" has an interesting history. It's an old spelling of "Ankara," the capital of modern Turkey; the word comes from Greek ankylos, meaning "anchor" or "bend." Angora the place lent its name to Angora goats, known for their soft fur (which is spun into angora yarn); Angora cats and rabbits were named after the goats. There's an Angora in Oregon that was named in 1898 for the Angora goats a homesteader was raising nearby. It's possible that the various California places called Angora were named for a similar reason. But I'm guessing: if you know otherwise, please leave a comment and enlighten us all.
However it came to be attached to Lake Tahoe, Angora is a lovely, historic word that will have tragic associations for many years.
Photo of Angora Peak and Indian Rock Fallen Leaf Lodge, 1932, from Pomona Public Library.