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Updated: 03/18/2017 08:30:01AM

Fire officials warn about wildfires caused by vehicles

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SEBRING — As the grasses and vines with shallow roots green up with the recent rainfall, the Florida Forest Service, Okeechobee District, wants to remind residents to be vigilant with wildfire prevention. According to the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, inadequate rainfall has depleted the moisture content in deeper rooted fuels, such as shrubs and trees.

“Larger diameter trees will take a longer time to regain moisture compared to shallow rooted grasses. In addition, most of Florida’s native plants have oils and resins that contribute to the susceptibility for burning,” a Forestry news release states.

Moderate drought has created a fuel condition that supports fires of longer duration and more extreme fire behavior than would normally be expected.

The Forest Service is asking for the community’s help in reducing wildfires caused by vehicles. Dead fuels, such as leaves, sticks and twigs, hold far less moisture, and pulling off to the side of the road into dead vegetation can ignite a wildfire, Forestry officials said.

“The most common way is when the dead vegetation touches the vehicle exhaust system, including the catalytic converter, which can reach up to 1,400 degrees. With the right weather conditions, all forms of motorized vehicles including cars, golf carts, motorcycles, airboats, All-Terrain Vehicles or side by side (UTVs) can be fire starters,” fire officials said.

They offered a few tips to reduce wildfires:

• A loose safety chain or muffler striking a rock or pavement will send a shower of sparks into dry vegetation. Ensure all parts of your vehicle are secure and not dragging.

• Driving on an exposed wheel rim throws sparks. Poorly lubricated wheel bearings can overheat and ignite, and worn out brakes can drop hot material into the grass. Take the time to check your tire pressure and look for indicators of wear and tear on a tire.

• Engine compartments can collect debris and ignite a spark. Worn-out catalytic converters can degrade and cast off extremely hot pieces of material. A faulty spark arrestor can shed hot metal. Take the time to maintain and clean exhaust systems and spark arresters.

• Avoid driving vehicles off the road when it’s hot and dry because that will increase chances of a fire starting from a vehicle. Driving an off-road vehicle, such as an ATV/UTV or airboat, can cause sparks to fly out through the exhaust system. The key here is to equip the vehicle with spark arresters.

• Oil and transmission fluid are highly flammable and if the vehicle is leaking, then it’s time for a maintenance check.

The Forest Service wants to remind the community to have a fire extinguisher and know how to use it. Dead leaf litter/grass wildfires are dangerous because they burn at an accelerated rate since the “fuel is so small and fine,” Forestry officials added. Those who accidentally ignite the grass, should call 911.

For questions about burn authorizations and wildfire prevention, call 863-655-6407 for the Highlands County office.

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