As this spring and summer have made painfully clear, wildfires are a persistent threat to our environment, communities, and natural resources. These devastating events wreak havoc to some degree every year, threatening loss of life while causing extensive property damage and harm to ecosystems. While wildfires can occur due to a variety of factors, one significant contributor that is often overlooked is the presence of hot spots on off-highway vehicles (OHVs). These vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), dirt bikes, and off-road trucks, often venture into remote and vulnerable areas where wildfires can easily ignite but may be difficult for firefighters to reach.
In the context of OHVs, hot spots refer to areas on the vehicle that can reach high temperatures, sometimes in excess of 200° C. These areas include the exhaust system, engine and manifold, wheel wells, and under the seat. When temperatures get this high, any debris such as grass, moss, or muskeg can heat up, begin to smoulder and then ignite. Smouldering debris can fall to the ground and easily ignite a wildfire.
So far, 14 wildfires in the province have already been determined to be caused by OHVs this season, according to Travis Fairweather, Wildfire Information Officer with Alberta Wildfire. This probably won’t be the final number for the year, as many fires are still under investigation, and wildfire season isn’t over until October 31. The five-year average for fires caused by OHVs in Alberta is 12.
Preventing these incidents can be pretty simple and not that much of a hassle:
· OHV owners should regularly inspect and clean hot spots on their vehicles. This includes removing debris, vegetation, and mud from areas around the engine and exhaust components. Doing so before and after your ride goes a long way. It’s also a good idea to do this regularly during your ride.
· Perform routine maintenance to ensure your muffler and spark arrestor are in good working order.
· Avoid riding in areas with high fire danger, such as dry grasslands or during periods of extreme heat and strong winds.
Conditions can be ripe for wildfire as we head into fall. As the grass and fallen leaves dry up, they can become a proverbial tinderbox just waiting for a stray spark or some fallen smouldering debris to light it all up.
As Fairweather says, “A little bit of extra caution goes a long way.”
By adopting responsible practices, conducting routine maintenance, and raising awareness, we can significantly reduce the risk of wildfires ignited by OHVs. Please be mindful of the risks and enjoy yourselves out on the trails.
Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette