Idaho Transportation, Lands Officials Look to the Past to Help Prevent Roadside Wildfires in the FutureWednesday June 28, 2023
Boise, ID – Before hitting the road for weekend or holiday adventures, officials from the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) and Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) want Idahoans and Gem State visitors to make sure the safety chains attached to their trailers won’t drag and spark fires, and that tires are road worthy so they don’t blow out.
“Flat tires on vehicles and trailers pose wildfire risks when metal rims scrape along asphalt, throwing sparks into roadside fuels like dry grass”, said ITD director Scott Stokes. “Before heading out, check your tire pressure and look for damage or wear that could lead to tire failure.”
Idaho has seen catastrophic wildfires from a flat tire in the past, something state officials hope to avoid in the future. In 1992 a negligent motorist drove for miles with a flat tire on the car he was towing behind his motorhome. It started a 6,258 acre fire along Highway 55 near Banks, ID, with the driver receiving a $1.3 million bill for the cost of fighting the blaze.
Dragging trailer chains are also dangerous, they can start multiple fires along stretches of roads and highways.
A vehicle dragging a chain threw sparks into the dry grasses along I-84 near Jerome in 2019 burning more than 350 acres and impeding traffic on the freeway.
“We all want to do the right thing, and double-checking your safety chains takes less than a minute,” said Stokes.
When connecting trailer safety chains, crisscross the chains so they won’t drag on the road. Crisscrossing provides the added benefit that if the ball hitch does come loose, the trailer is cradled in the chains keeping it behind your vehicle, away from oncoming traffic.
Preventing a human cause wildfire also means being aware of your surroundings when you stop along a roadway or park to recreate.
“Parking on dry grass can also start wildfires and should always be avoided,” added IDL director Dustin Miller. “Your vehicle’s exhaust system is hot enough to spark a fire.”
In 2017 a farmer near Star, ID, lost five acres of wheat to a preventable fire caused by the hot exhaust pipe on a truck.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there were 61,429 human-caused wildfires across the nation in 2022.
“Wildfires caused by humans are 100% preventable if people would just change their behaviors and use caution and common sense,” Miller added.
It’s not just damage to the land people love, there can be severe financial consequences for negligently starting a wildfire in Idaho. Idaho law directs IDL to investigate wildfires on land it protects. Those deemed negligently responsible for starting fires face paying for suppression costs and economic damages.
According to Miller, the costs can run into the millions. “Because Idaho’s taxpayers pay for wildfire suppression, we aggressively seek to recover as much as possible from those found negligent.”