Among the different agencies and organizations involved in fighting wildfires, the Arizona Department of Transportation may not come to mind. However, ADOT is active in helping to prevent wildfires both before and during wildfire season.
During the winter and spring seasons, ADOT crews mow down vegetation along the highway shoulders. Crews also engage in brush removal, thinning trees and spraying fire retardant within the ADOT right-of-way in order to prevent a fire or slow the spread of one.
ADOT also requires fire plans as a part of the construction contract for highway projects. Fire plans indicate what measures will be taken to prevent a fire starting in the work zone and what to do if a fire flares up. Employees also engage in training to work in a way that prevents wildfires.
“Combating the threat of wildfires is a team effort,” said Flagstaff District Engineer Audra Merrick. “We make sure we work in ways to help prevent wildfires along the highway system.”
During a wildfire, ADOT supports firefighting efforts by offering the use of ADOT maintenance crew water trucks to help supply water to firefighters. ADOT also manages traffic control along highways affected by wildfires, and notifies the motorists through overhead and portable message boards. Alerts are also posted on the Traveler Information System at az511.gov.
ADOT crews also work with the wildfire incident command team to assist it in meeting its goals.
“We are happy to offer aid to those fighting wildfires,” Merrick said. “From providing water to helping emergency responders get in and around the affected area, ADOT will offer assistance in any way we can.”
After a wildfire has been extinguished, ADOT crews assess any damage done to the highway as well as adjacent areas. As seen recently in Oak Creek Canyon with the aftermath of the Slide Fire, crews help curb flooding hazards by staging heavy equipment such as road graders and repair roadway embankments along burned out slopes within ADOT’s right of way in an effort to restore vegetation.
ADOT crews also place erosion control features such as logs, rock dams and “wattles” – straw-filled canvas tubes that help keep the soil and debris off highways – along the right of way in preparation for potential flooding.