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Wildfire risk: Don't toss lighted cigarettes from cars

I travel from Linthicum to College Park via the Baltimore-Washington Parkway every weekday between the hours of 5:20 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. to catch a metro train to my office in Washington. Daily, I see motorists toss lit cigarettes out of their moving vehicles at least once if not more often. On one recent morning, I observed at least four such incidents. Nothing incites my hidden road rage tendencies more than a careless motorist flipping a lit cigarette out of their vehicle window onto the road.

When the cigarette hits the pavement, it will usually burst into a half-dozen miniature flaming embers that can land on a following vehicle, damaging the hood, or land in the vehicle's front grille. If the lit embers enter the grille, they can smolder in the little accumulations of combustible debris such as dead leaves and bugs around the radiator, starting a fire in the plastic-filled engine compartment hours later while the vehicle sits unattended in a parking lot. I have seen it happen.

Brush fires along major highways are caused by discarded lit cigarettes. These brush fires can spread to structures. Fire engines and firefighters working along the side of the roadway battling these fires are vulnerable to accidents from traffic. Fire engines on the side of the road cause traffic to back-up making an already-challenging commute dreadful. Fire units tied-up on a brush fire are not available to respond to more serious structure fires or people having a severe medical emergency such as a heart attack.

In my 40-year-plus career in the emergency response services, mostly as a firefighter and fire officer, I have seen many devastating fires caused by discarded cigarettes. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, discarded cigarettes and other smoking materials are still considered the leading cause of fires in the United States.

I don't know how these careless drivers can be so inconsiderate on a normal day, but now with the region's breezy and dry weather ("Brush fire in Joppa burns for 5 hours," April 9) you think they would have enough sense not to toss lit cigarettes from their vehicles. Unfortunately, people who are so thoughtless most likely don't read The Sun. But if they did, they would be smart to either quit smoking or remember to at least extinguish their cigarettes in their vehicle's ash tray.

Joseph B. Ross Jr., Linthicum

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