Fire Below!

Skid plate
Aftermath of the skid plate fire that nearly destroyed a Jeep Unlimited.
Photo by Jim
(Click picture for a larger image.)
Jim and his buddy Tim were doing a pre-run on permitted but seldom-used trails in the vicinity of Tonopah, Nev. back in August. They stopped to check the map and both noticed the smell of burning grass. They did a 360 inspection and found nothing. Wildfires blazed in the Sierras, but were too far away to be the source for this odor. They resumed their drive.

After a full day of driving, Jim stopped for another map check. He noticed smoke and flames billowing up the left side of his vehicle. Jim grabbed his 10 lb. dry chemical fire extinguisher. Lying on the ground he could see 4”-6” flames surrounding the transmission on both sides. A half dozen short blasts on each side of the transmission extinguished the flames.

A thorough inspection revealed that the area above the skid plate had become packed with dried vegetation. The front edge of his skid plate had lopped off the tops of grasses and brush as they rolled along. This vegetation, tinder dry from the hot summer, needed just a heat source to light up. (Later, Jim discovered scorched grasses in the open pocket around the plastic gas tank skid pad. Had that area ignited, he would’ve had a really serious incident on his hands.)

Jim’s experience, though uncommonly severe, serves as a good reminder of a hazard four wheelers can face. Driving through tall or heavy vegetation presents a real fire hazard. Make sure you thoroughly inspect the undercarriage whenever you stop —whether for lunch, photo opps or a 10-100. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to stop frequently if you’re driving in those conditions. It doesn’t take long for the vegetation to build up.

Look inside every nook and cranny underneath. You’ll be surprised where that stuff turns up. In Jim’s case, he found debris packed in the transmission cross member the next day. Don’t stop inspecting until you’re positive you’re clear of any fire hazard.

A fire hazard isn’t limited to drive times, either. Once at your campsite, avoid parking over tall grasses. The catalytic converter can start a fire. (Just like parking over a pile of leaves in the city.)

How to minimize the fire hazards

Start with a thorough inspection and cleaning, of course. Increasing your vehicle’s ground clearance helps, too. A typical vehicle offers about 10-12 inches of clearance under its skid plate. Lifting an additional 3 to 4 inches makes a big difference. ("Honey, Tom says I need to lift the vehicle for the safety of you and the kids!"). Drill large holes in the skid plate, if you have the capability. (This is what Jim eventually did with his.) Or look for a replacement model designed that way. Much of debris should fall out as you’re driving along.

Fire Extinguisher
Bigger is better and two are better than one!
If and when a fire starts—whether under the frame or under the hood—you’ll want a chance to fight it. A good fire extinguisher is a must for every 4WD vehicle. (More on fire extinguishers at “Pack A Fire Extinguisher So You Don’t Get Burned.”) Two are even better: one up front and another in the back. Inspect those periodically to see that they’re still charged.

While I’m on the subject of fire extinguishers, I’d like to offer this thought. If someone walking down the street spots a fire, and a fire extinguisher on my vehicle is handy, I’d want him to use it. That’s what fire extinguishers are for: saving property and lives. I don’t care if I’m not the one helping out. Wouldn’t you be glad that a stranger grabbed the nearest tool to douse a fire involving some of your property?
Heck, I would even pay to recharge it. You get my point!

Fires, while rare, are real concerns while four wheeling. Vegetation packed in the undercarriage can go unnoticed until it builds to the point of combusting. Eliminate that hazard by thoroughly inspecting the underside of your vehicle when driving through vegetation. Also, make sure you have at least one properly rated fire extinguisher aboard at all times. These small steps can prevent disasters while off road.

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Related Articles from Badlands Off-road Adventures

Did you miss the previous article?

Some Upcoming Events

(click on the link for details)

Badlands Off-Road Adventures on Bull Frog Trail in Johnson Valley
Photo by The Adventure Portal
(Click picture for a larger image.)

Much of the Badlands Off-Road Adventures 2017 calendar is now posted on the web site. There is still some fine tuning required. We do not have enough tire repair clinics scheduled.

We have one adventure trip scheduled before the end of the year: the T&T Railroad.

October marks the beginning of our class schedule in Borrego Springs. The first clinic is Oct 29th.

Summary of upcoming events.

T&T Rail Road Adventure in November

Death Valley

Our goal is to cross through Johnson Valley, enjoying what it has to offer, and making our way North along the old Tonopah & Tidewater (T&T) Rail Road bed to the Rasor OHV, Afton Canyon and the western edge of the Mojave Preserve. On the way we will skirt the Rodman Mountain Wilderness and cross I-40. This adventure is 2 days of scenic, historical, light wheeling and a night ( 2 if you prefer) of primitive camping under the stars. We can plan a Dutch Oven pot luck for our evening meal.
Check out the details and sign up on the website: http://www.4x4training.com/Adventures/TTRailroad.html

You can register directly at http://www.4x4training.com/calendar/calendar.php#TTRailroad

May 5, 2016 - ALL COLORS BACK in STOCK

Winching Recover Bandana
Click for higher resolution image
We now have all six colors of our winch bandana back in stock!

The Orange and Red went fast last time with blue not far behind so if you want a specific color order now while we have them all available.

The Bandana layout follows the “Vehicle Recovery Plan” with pathways to more detail. A unique section of the Bandana, gives the steps for a “Winch Rigging Check: Walk through” so that you verify every element of the rigging before you commit to the pull.

Stuff this in your recovery kit and you will always be ready.

Warning – the Bandana is not a substitute for proper training and use of quality equipment used within the bounds of their safe working load. We advise you to use the information provided in the Winching Recovery Bandana at your own risk. We cannot control the quality and specifications of the equipment used and the methods actually employed.

The original press release with larger graphics is on the website

I hope to see you on the trails!
Tom Severin, President
Badlands Off Road Adventures, Inc.
4-Wheel Drive School
Make it Fun. Keep it Safe.
If you find this information valuable, please pass it on to a friend. You can forward them the email. If you received a forwarded copy of this newsletter and would like to subscribe for yourself, go to: www.4x4training.com/contacts.html and follow the instructions to join our mail list.
Want To Use This Article In Your Magazine, E-Zine, Club Newsletter Or Web Site? You are welcome to use it anytime, just be sure to include the following author/copyright information: Tom Severin, 4x4 Coach, teaches 4WD owners how to confidently and safely use their vehicles to the fullest extent in difficult terrain and adverse driving conditions. Visit www.4x4training.com to develop or improve your driving skill.

Copyright 2016, Badlands Off-Road Adventures, Inc.

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