Disaster girl meme

Meme History: Disaster Girl

A little aggressive but in a kind of cute way, it's a great way to faux-overreact to any perceived injustice.


Kyle Calise


Posted on Mar 31, 2024   Updated on Mar 31, 2024, 7:34 pm CDT

Mebane, North Carolina, mid-2000s. Total Area: 11 square miles. Population: about 10,000. “Positively Charming,” and home to 2005’s most mischievous–looking toddler, Zoe Roth.

In January 2005, the Mebane North Carolina fire department lit a donated house in a residential neighborhood on fire as part of a training exercise.

When he heard the sirens blaring down their street, Dave Roth, neighbor and amateur photographer, decided to take his camera, and children down the street to investigate. 

In Body Image
Dave Roth/Know Your Meme

There, he took this photo, which he later titled, “Firestarter.”

In Body Image
Dave Roth/Know Your Meme

According to Dave, it received positive attention on Zoomr, the site where he originally hosted it, but initially it didn’t really break out of online photographer circles.

However, almost three years later, he submitted it to a photo contest for JPG magazine, who published it in their February / March 2008 print issue.

They also posted about it on their blog, gaining over 95,000 views.

That’s how it was picked up by the likes of BuzzFeedCracked, and other news outlets and spread to social media, which gave it a new moniker, “Disaster Girl.” 

A little aggressive but in a kind of cute way, it’s a great way to faux-overreact to any perceived injustice, or plain old make a dark, if ultimately innocent joke.

Or, if you’re a parent, maybe worry a little about your brooding toddler.

In April 2021, taking advantage of her internet fame, Zoe sold the image as an NFT for 180 Ethereum—nearly $500,000, shrewdly retaining the copyright as well as 10% of future sales. She used it first to pay off her student loans, and then actually donated the rest to charity.

We all need a little break from our doldrums sometimes. And if the local fire department was letting your kids play with their hoses and spray down your neighbor’s house, that would definitely qualify.

For the rest of us, we can live vicariously through Zoe.

Editor’s Note: Fellow web crawlers like you voted “Disaster Girl” into the first annual Daily Dot Hall of Fame in 2022. She won the “Big Mood” category with 39% of the vote. 

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*First Published: Mar 31, 2024, 6:00 am CDT