Brush fire

After a brush fire earlier this summer on Interstate 17.

Thousands of drivers on southbound Interstate 17 have found themselves stuck in an 11-mile backup while returning to Phoenix from the high country, not because of a crash but because of a brush fire that had triggered a disruptive highway closure over the summer.

That Sunday afternoon blaze is a reminder that wildfires or even relatively small brush fires can ignite long before triple-digit temperatures take hold. And with dry vegetation lining our highways, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) wants to remind drivers that they play an important role in preventing fires while traveling.

Some things are obvious, like not tossing cigarette butts out the window of a vehicle’s window. But less obvious things, like underinflated tires, can also cause sparks that ignite vegetation.

Before motorists take their next trip, ADOT asks them to take a few minutes to ensure they’re not going to inadvertently put other drivers or firefighters at risk. A few tips include:

  • Don’t park your vehicle on dry grass or drive where vegetation could touch the underside of your vehicle.
  • Don’t throw a lighted cigarette out your vehicle’s window.
  • Check your tire pressure before traveling. Exposed wheel rims can cause sparks.
  • When pulling a trailer, make sure loose chains aren’t dragging on the pavement because they could cause sparks and ignite roadside fires.
  • Observe “Red Flag” warnings, which are issued when weather conditions are conductive to the easy start and spread of fires.

Just a single vehicle can spark a fire with a big impact. That was the case in 2019 when a chain dangling from a trailer ignited a 5,000-acre fire along 24 miles of State Route 377 between Heber-Overgaard and Holbrook. The blaze triggered evacuations and closed the highway for four days.

For more information on preventing brush fires, visit focusondriving.com. The Arizona Interagency Wildfire Prevention website wildlandfire.az.gov/ provides information about active fires.

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