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Road crews clear grass, brush along highways ahead of busy travel weekend

Posted at 5:51 PM, May 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-22 22:50:48-04

More than 4.5 million Californians are expected to hit the road for Memorial Day weekend and state agencies are taking steps to prevent fires on the side of the highway.

Chipping away at fire risks, Caltrans crews across the Central Coast have been busy mowing overgrown grass and trimming back brush.

“You wouldn’t think but a cigarette butt flying out of a window landing in the brush can easily start a fire and spread very quickly,” explained Caltrans Maintenance Supervisor Josh Caldera.

Off Main Street in Santa Maria on Wednesday, crews had to cut back extra vegetation to prevent people from returning to a homeless encampment in the area.

“The homeless living in our vegetation on the shoulders or on the highway definitely heightens the risk of a fire being started by cooking, smoking, (and) trying to stay warm,” Caldera said.

The California Highway Patrol says the most frequent fire-related calls they get over the summer are for motorists dragging chains, one of the most common starters of fires on the roadways.

“If your safety chains are too long, you could cross the safety chains and put them to the other side of the hitch like this, or you could shorten them by twisting them,” demonstrated Officer Jordan Richards, CHP Coastal Division Public Information Officer.

The CHP also recommends keeping a fire extinguisher in your car.

“If you could carry a shovel, that’s great, but realistically a small fire extinguisher would be a great item to have in your vehicle in case you were to see a fire you could pull over and help try to put it out,” Officer Richards said.

Firefighters with CAL FIRE SLO say despite the recent rains and cooler temperatures, it hasn’t been enough to really impact all of the dry vegetation around us.

Both CAL FIRE SLO and the CHP say they will have extra staffing this weekend to be ready in case of an emergency.