Fresno Fire braces for future fire threat along freeways, Caltrans working to reduce vegetation

Jessica Harrington Image
Wednesday, April 26, 2023
Fresno Fire braces for future fire threat along freeways, Caltrans working to reduce vegetation
Heavy rain in recent months has created beautiful wildflower blooms and lush green grasses along hillsides.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Heavy rain in recent months has created beautiful wildflower blooms and lush green grasses along hillsides.

As temperatures heat up and the vegetation starts to dry out, the threat of fires grows.

Along our freeways, the smallest spark can ignite an entire embankment creating a danger for drivers and first responders.

Thick vegetation is slowly creating fuel for fires along local freeways.

The Fresno Fire Department took us on a ride-along showing us the spots that have seen significant growth.

In one area along Highway 41, some of the vegetation is as tall as the firefighters.

Fire officials say battling a blaze as cars buzz by is inherently dangerous.

"Our red lights are on and cars do not slow," Fresno Fire Dept. Public Information Officer Christine Wilson.

The engineer of the truck also has to work the pump panel which is along the roadway, right next to traffic.

Last year, the Fresno fire department responded to 1,200 vegetation fires, half were along Highway 99 or Highway 41.

On Wednesday alone, firefighters rushed to put out a grass fire on the Van Ness off-ramp along Highway 41 where the grass is still somewhat green.

"That's not going to burn as quickly," Wilson said.

Then there was a shopping cart on fire along Angus Street near Huntington Avenue that quickly spread into nearby grass.

First responders say they're bracing for what the next few months will bring.

"We are anticipating a much larger vegetation fire season this year along the freeways just due to the significant growth," Wilson said.

Caltrans says keeping growing vegetation at bay is a year-round process.

They use pre-emergent spray, but that's only available before the rain starts.

Now that the rain has subsided, their mowing operations have begun.

Heavy machinery is used in the center dividers, but all of the embankments must be cleared by hand.

"All of those need to be what we call hand weeded so weed eaters or hand tools," said Caltrans District 6 Public Information Officer Elizabeth Yelton.

As fire season begins, Caltrans says crews will revisit areas as necessary.

"If some areas do become a problem spot, where the grass keeps continuing to grow, we will go hit those areas again to help knock down some of that grass," Yelton said.

Caltrans says teams are working as fast as they can to get all of this cut down as quickly as possible.

Fresno Fire and Caltrans both ask drivers, if they see crews along the freeway, please move over into the next lane and slow down.

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