Gold Run, Calif. – California Highway Patrol in the Gold Run area says it’s placing a greater emphasis on big rig brake checks after a series of fires along Interstate 80 that threatened more than the commute.
A brake fire Monday briefly closed the interstate as Cal Fire and local firefighting crews quickly worked to stop it from spreading.
“Over the last couple of days, we’ve had several vehicles riding their brakes too much, actually started fires that actually spread onto the shoulders,” said Officer Earl Nattrass. “Fortunately, Cal Fire and the local fire departments were able to get the fires out before they spread. One of these times, that’s not going to happen. We don’t want to have any more fires here in California if we can avoid that.”
The fire was the latest in recent weeks on both I-80 and Highway 50 to snarl traffic and, in one case, lead to evacuations.
Nattrass spent much of Tuesday on the lookout for truckers who passed a mandatory brake check near Nyack. Those who didn’t stop to check the status of their breaks were pulled over and issued citations.
Officer Chris Nave chalked up the brake fires to a few key factors. The first, he said, was truckers passing the brake check.
“We have a brake check area at Blue Canyon where all trucks are supposed to stop, by law, and check their brakes, make sure they’re not too hot before they come down the hill,” he said.
Aside from blowing off the brake check, Nave said too many truckers speed down the Sierra’s steep westbound lanes, which in turn, causes them to apply too much pressure too often to their brakes.
Inexperience, he added, is also to blame.
“The experienced drivers that drive this mountain a lot, they know how to gear down, how to maneuver these hills better than maybe some of these drivers that don’t have the experience,” he said.
Nave suggested drivers new to the mountain trek talk with their colleagues over the radio and at truck stops for best practices on getting down the mountain.
Everyday drivers, Nave added, aren’t free of the blame either. He said drivers who cut off truckers or don’t give them enough space cause them to slam on their brakes more often, which over time, can also lead to brake fires.
Truck drivers are required to carry fire extinguishers, but Nave said they’re not helpful in putting out brake fires. They often grow too quickly before those smaller extinguishers can be effective.