Don't spark a wildfire: Check vehicles, trailers before summer trips

By Ryan Harding / ADOT Communications

Smoke from a fire arises from the rocks along side the road.

Summer is coming. And with it comes increased wildfire risk as the heat dries out grass and vegetation along the highways. The photo above, from along I-40 last summer, shows one such fire.

In order to reduce the chances of brush fires, which can subsequently turn into wildfires, we’re asking drivers to take a minute and do some double-checking before heading out on the highways this summer.

First, if you’re towing a trailer for camping or some other reason, make sure the chains on the tow assembly aren’t dragging on the ground. Dragging chains create sparks on the road surface, and one spark is all that’s needed to start a fire that can potentially burn thousands of acres.

Brush fire

Case in point: Last June, the 377 Fire, which started along SR 377 between Heber-Overgaard and Holbrook, burned nearly 5,000 acres. Shown in the photo at right, this fire put people and property at risk, closed the highway for days and prompted evacuations.

The cause? Dragging metal from the back of a trailer which sparked several brush fires over 24 miles along the highway.

According to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, dragging chains is one of the main causes of fires along highways.

“Roadside fires continue to be one of the biggest causes of Arizona's wildfires every year, especially on heavily traveled highways like Interstates 10 and 17. A majority of these roadside fires are preventable, yet they continue to happen,” said Tiffany Davila, public affairs officer for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

Besides securing your chains, make sure your tires are properly inflated before heading out on the road. Not only is this great for gas mileage and long-lasting tires, it also prevents exposed wheel rims from creating – you guessed it – sparks on the road surface. If you find you need to pull off the highway for an emergency, try to avoid tall grass. Heat from the parts under your vehicle can catch the grass on fire. Park in low grass or dirt.

One more thing: don’t do something careless like tossing a finished cigarette out the window. Cigarettes are not only bad for your health, they’re bad for dry brush along the highways. One smoldering ember is all it takes.

By taking care to do some simple things, we can all do our part to reduce the chances of wildfires.

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