Wildfires are raging in California, Oregon, and Washington State. Last year, fires ravaged portions of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Wildfires pose a serious hazard to professional truckers who must travel in fire-prone areas. Stay safe when driving your rig in wildfire conditions by following these five best practices.
Stay Aware of Current Conditions
Wildfires grow and spread rapidly. A fire-free stretch of highway may be clear one minute and covered in embers and smoke five minutes later. During wildfires, officials close highways and other through-roads with little or no warning.
When traveling in and around wildfire areas, find several up-to-the-minute sources of information on road and visibility conditions. Social media sites, trucker apps, CB communication, and dispatcher updates offer real-time data on the road conditions ahead.
Some states host live traffic info on local FM or AM radio frequencies. Other states place informative signs over the highways to keep drivers current on road delays and hazards. Use all of the tools at your disposal to stay away from dangerous, fiery roads.
Ensure Your Rig Is Spark-Free
When fire risk is high, a single spark can set the roadside ablaze. Go over your rig to ensure it has no dragging tow chains or other components that could produce sparks from contact with the road.
Don’t toss cigarette butts out the window ever. Keep a bag for litter close at hand inside your truck, so paper and other debris don’t accidentally fly out of a window. Paper debris on the roadside can be set afire when a careless cigarette butt or spark lands on the trash.
Understand Suspended Trucking Rules
In August 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation suspended some federal trucking regulations in response to the states of emergency declared in Western wildfire areas. If you’re hauling support materials or equipment intended for the firefighting effort, you’re exempt from hours-of-service and some other rules during the emergency period.
The suspended rules allow you to:
- Get expedited truck inspections at weigh stations
- Exceed 24-hour mileage limits
- Forego tracking of driving times
- Receive exemptions for load-securement standards
The suspended rules do not suspend any rules concerning substance abuse, faulty tires, or driver-documentation requirements. You must also still comply with size and weight requirements and hazardous-material precautions.
Be prepared to tell law enforcement, motor carriers, and other officials that you’re hauling a load destined for the firefighting efforts. Be ready to show proof of your hauling route, too.
Prepare for Delays and Evacuations
During fire and heavy smoke conditions, you may have to wait for long periods on highways and other roads as traffic and debris are cleared. Before entering areas where wildfires are present, check your fuel gauge and top off other vital fluids.
Have drinks, snacks, and other necessities available in case your delay makes you miss a meal. Keeping hydrated and well-fed will help you stay alert to traffic and fire conditions.
Evacuation may be necessary if flames are at risk of engulfing your truck. Truckers have had to abandon rigs in California and Colorado this fire season. When ordered to evacuate your truck, do so as soon as possible to save your life. No matter how valuable your rig is, your life is priceless.
Have a go-bag ready for an evacuation. A backpack or duffel bag is easy to carry in an emergency.
Inside the evacuation bag, place:
- Change of clothes and underwear
- Clean pair of shoes
- Extra cash
- Medications and toiletries
- Bottled water and snacks
- Contact information
It’s never easy to abandon a rig when disaster looms. However, when you have a bag ready to go, all you have to do is throw your phone, keys, and documentation inside, and you can escape fast. You won’t waste time looking for necessities while the flames are licking at your truck.
Have Resources at Hand to Find Alternate Routes
Even when roads and highways are clear near wildfire zones, traffic can back up for miles. Low visibility, nearby evacuations, and wildfires burning on the road a few miles ahead are all causes of road delays.
As of September 7, the only interstate linking California and Oregon is closed along a 45-mile stretch of road due to the effects from the 22,000-acre Delta Fire. Officials are unsure when the important commercial-truck route will reopen. This scenario will replay every time fires advance and spread over key transport routes.
Have backup travel plans in mind to keep you moving when roads are suddenly closed. Google maps, state departments of transportation, and some local law enforcement agencies have detour information available online.
Your GPS device is another source where you’ll find alternate routes to your delivery address. Good old-fashioned paper maps and atlases have details about back roads and state highways that are open for travel.
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