With summer temperatures at hand and the landscape extremely dry across Arizona, dragging chains, tossing cigarette butts or even having underinflated tires can start fires along state highways.
To get ready for fire season, Arizona Department of Transportation crews mow vegetation along highway shoulders in the winter and spring. They remove brush, thin trees and spray fire retardant within the ADOT right-of-way to prevent fires and slow the spread of those that occur.
But motorists have an important role as well, including not tossing burning cigarettes that can tumble or be blown into grass and brush. Here are other ways motorists can help cut down on sparks that lead to fires:
- Dragging chains during towing can cause sparks. Check and secure tow chains, and never substitute parts when towing.
- Make sure nothing is hanging beneath your vehicle and dragging on the pavement.
- Check tire pressure before you travel. Exposed wheel rims can cause sparks.
- Don’t park in tall grass, as the heat from parts under your vehicle can start a fire.
Besides the obvious danger to lives, property and the landscape, fires can snarl traffic as firefighters work along the highway and also can lead to lengthy closures. On April 25, for example, a rider whose motorcycle caught fire pulled into brush along eastbound Interstate 40 between US 93 and Seligman, igniting a fire that temporarily closed the freeway while firefighters managed to limit it to 6 acres.
“Each of us can do some simple things to cut down on the risk of fires along state highways, starting with checking tire pressure and making sure vehicles and trailers aren’t dragging something that can produce sparks,” said Dallas Hammit, ADOT’s state engineer and deputy director for transportation. “On the road, please use common sense. One burning cigarette flying out a car window can start a wildfire.”
According to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, dragging chains is one of the main causes of fires along highways including Interstate 17 heading into and out of the Phoenix area. On May 9, for example, dragging chains caused five brush fires along 8 miles of US 191 south of Safford. Fast action by firefighters prevented the fires from spreading beyond a tenth of an acre each.
“We continue to get multiple fire starts along Arizona's highways due to unsecured chains,” said Tiffany Davila, public affairs officer for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management. “The drought conditions and dry fuels equate to very high fire danger across the state. One spark is really all it can take to start a fast-moving wildfire.”
ADOT participates in the “One Less Spark One Less Wildfire” campaign the U.S. Forest Service and other land management agencies launched to focus on the role drivers and homeowners play in preventing wildfires.