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Fire hazard growing along area highways and freeways

99 cleanup.jpg

There’s a growing fire hazard along Central Valley highways and freeways.

Dry grass, weeds and bushes.

This has crews scrambling to clear out tall, dry grass and brush before the next jump in temperatures, dries out even more.

"What we're seeing right now is because of the late rains we received in the spring," says Cory Burkarth, Caltrans spokesman.

Yards away, crews cleared dry brush and trimmed trees along freeway 99 in Kingsburg.

The dry brush – combined with recent days of 90-degree and triple-digit high — didn't help.

What's worse: Caltrans crews are spread thin.

"We have the same number of maintenance staff today that we had 20 years ago before we built the 168, 41, and 180 through Fresno," Burkarth says.

They cover 900 acres of landscaped space along highways in the Fresno area alone.

Three crews carry out the job, rotating to cover seven days a week.

A day crew from "Westcare" and a team with the California Conservation Corps help.

But, there isn’t money to hire more people immediately.

Blame the wet winter for that, too.

It tore up many roads.

Caltrans is spending $1.5 million dollars to make emergency repairs along Highway 99 through Fresno alone.

"We had to go spend money in January and February [that] we allotted for May, June, July. And that's gonna have an impact on our landscape effort. We may see taller grass and taller weeds in areas where we would like to have them cut in the next month or two."

The recent transportation bill signed by Governor Brown will help.

That bill raises the gas tax by 12 cents and vehicle registration.

But until that money begins to trickle in, crews will be prioritizing areas they will address.

Crews plan to address shoulders where bushes and trees block roadway signs, first.

Areas that haven’t been cleared in a while will also get cleaned up.

It had been years since crews cleared out the Mendocino off-ramp in Kingsburg.

"The storm, while it may be long behind us now. Its impacts are gonna continue to be felt on a daily basis," Burkarth says.

If there is an area along a freeway or highway that you feel needs to be addressed, you can email Caltrans here.

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