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December 8, 2021
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Hot cars, dragging chains and dry grass make fiery combination

Every year, our vehicles and other equipment start hundreds of wildfires in Utah. As hot and dry as it is heading into this holiday weekend, firefighters remind us to keep hot cars away from dry grass. (Mark Wetzel, KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY – Every year, our vehicles and other equipment start hundreds of wildfires in Utah. As hot and dry as it is heading into this holiday weekend, firefighters remind us to keep hot cars away from dry grass.

This weekend, many Utahns will head to their favorite destinations and pull off the road. As you do, use your fire sense, otherwise, you run the risk of starting a wildfire.

“I think it would surprise a lot of people: the amount of fires that we see, and the different ways that motor vehicles would start a fire,” said Jason Curry, a fire investigator and public information officer with Utah Forestry, Fire, and State Lands.

It’s hard to imagine, but our cars generate plenty of heat to start fires.

“It’s pretty much guaranteed that if you sit there and idle your car long enough over dry grass, you’re going to have a fire,” said Curry.

It only takes 451 degrees, and the fire investigator said our vehicles generate that heat in many ways. If your engine overheats, don’t pull over on dry grass.

“If it turns into a vehicle fire, that’s bad,” said Curry. “But it would be much worse if it turns into a vehicle fire and a wildfire.”

If you have to pull off a road, make sure to avoid parking on dry grass.
If you have to pull off a road, make sure to avoid parking on dry grass. (Photo: Mark Wetzel, KSL TV)

He said he has investigated fires in which people drove on a flat tire until it was shedding hot rubber with the rim on the road.

“The rim will spark, and throw just a shower of sparks on to the side of the road,” Curry said. “This year, we’ve already seen several fires started in exactly those ways.”

Keep tires properly inflated and vehicles tuned to avoid starting fires that way.

If you’re pulling a trailer, make sure your chains are not dragging. Curry has investigated numerous fires over the years started by sparks from a dragging chain.

“There’s just a shower of sparks coming off those chains,” he said. “I’ve seen them dragging, drooping. I’ve seen them disconnected.”

The easiest way to eliminate that problem is to put a few twists in the chains. That should shorten them enough to keep them from dragging.

“A spark coming off of any metal – trailer chains, rims, whatever, can easily spark a wildfire,” Curry said. “As long as your vehicle is properly maintained, and there’s nothing going wrong, you’re usually pretty safe from these things.”

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