Off duty Border Patrol agent connected to origin of 46,000-acre Sawmill Fire

(Updated at 1:15 p.m. MDT April 28, 2017)

The U.S. Border Patrol has confirmed that one of their off duty agents is being investigated in the cause of the Sawmill Fire that has burned over 46,000 acres 23 miles southeast of Tucson, Arizona. In an email to several media outlets the public affairs office of the agency wrote:

We are aware that the Sawmill Fire investigation involves an off-duty Tucson Sector Border Patrol agent. The agent was involved in recreational shooting and immediately reported the fire after it begun. All questions regarding the investigation should be directed to the state fire agency.

 

Sawmill Fire
Firefighters conduct burnout operations On the Sawmill Fire along Empire Ranch Road on April 26, 2017. Inciweb photo.

The Green Valley News reported earlier that multiple sources they spoke with said a recreational shooter using exploding targets started what became the Sawmill Fire. Those reports also said the shooter tried to put it out, but when that failed, he notified authorities.

Exploding targets are known to have started numerous fires and are banned many areas.

On Thursday resources assigned to the Sawmill Fire included 799 personnel, 16 hand crews, 67 engines, and 5 helicopters. The suppression cost to date was $3 million.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged exploding targets.

Sources report shooter with exploding targets started the 40,000-acre Sawmill Fire

The Green Valley News is reporting that several sources they spoke with said a target shooter using exploding targets started what became the Sawmill Fire 8 miles east of Green Valley, Arizona. The shooter reportedly tried to put out the fire, but after he failed he called to report it. The officials in charge of suppressing the fire have not confirmed what caused it.

As of Thursday April 27 the fire has burned approximately 40,000 acres and required the evacuation of several areas. The Green Valley News reported that approximately $1.6 million had been spent to suppress the fire as of Wednesday afternoon.

Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user create an explosive when shot by a high-velocity projectile. They have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years, have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. In June, 2013 a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed after shrapnel from the device struck him in the abdomen causing his death. The Missoulian reported that several years ago a woman in Ohio had her hand nearly blown off while taking a cellphone video of a man firing at an exploding target placed in a refrigerator about 150 feet away.

After the ingredients are combined, the compound is illegal to transport and is classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and is subject to the regulatory requirements in 27 CFR, Part 555.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged exploding targets.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Carl.

Three fire trucks damaged while fighting fire started by exploding targets

Shooters using exploding targets start 160-acre fire near Salina, Kansas.

exploding target
File photo of exploding target. Photo courtesy of Minnesota DNR.

A sheriff’s office spokesperson said the people who started a 160-acre fire using exploding targets did nothing illegal, according to the Salina Journal, in spite of the fact that it took firefighters from four fire districts to suppress the fire which threatened homes and damaged fence posts and three fire trucks.

Not everyone who starts wildfires with exploding targets gets a free pass from law enforcement. For example, Tristan C. Olson, of Missoula and Caitlin E. Hoover, of Stevensville, Montana were ordered to pay $9,450 in restitution after starting a fire that burned 50 acres east of Florence, Montana in 2014.

Apparently exploding targets are popular in Kansas. After numerous reports over the last week of two explosions near Wichita, KWCH news tracked down the source to five pounds of powder from explosive targets.

Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user create an explosive when shot by a high-velocity projectile. They have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years, have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. In June, 2013 a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed after shrapnel from the device struck him in the abdomen causing his death. The Missoulian reported that two years ago a woman in Ohio had her hand nearly blown off while taking a cellphone video of a man firing at an exploding target placed in a refrigerator about 150 feet away.

Two people ordered to pay $9,450 for starting wildfire with exploding target

Two people have been ordered to pay $9,450 restitution for starting the Three Mile Fire nine miles east of Florence, Montana in August, 2014 that burned about 50 acres before firefighters extinguished it at a cost estimated at $94,000. Tristan C. Olson, 30, of Missoula and Caitlin E. Hoover, 28, of Stevensville, Montana agreed to the settlement in exchange for the felony charges being dropped. They will also have to follow specific conditions for three years, including abstaining from the consumption of alcohol and drugs or entering bars or casinos.

The fire started when an exploding target was detonated in a tree surrounded by waist-high cured grass.

Mountain lion cubs
Two mountain lion cubs that were rescued in the fire. Photo by Cory Rennaker, Bitterroot National Forest Helitack, USFS.

During the initial attack on the fire, Bitterroot National Forest firefighters rescued a pair of mountain lion cubs. The kittens, just a few weeks old, were taking shelter under a burning log. Firefighters called in a helicopter bucket drop to cool the log, and the kittens, wet from the 600 gallons of water, were rescued. They were adopted by the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo and Aquarium, and on September 23 made an appearance on David Letterman’s show along with Jack Hanna.

The two people being charged were busted at least in part by writing about their adventure on Facebook that amounted to a confession.

Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user create an explosive when shot by a high-velocity projectile. They have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years and have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. In June, 2013 a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed after shrapnel from the device struck him in the abdomen causing his death. The Missoulian reported that two years ago a woman in Ohio had her hand nearly blown off while taking a cellphone video of a man firing at an exploding target placed in a refrigerator about 150 feet away.

Authorities in Texas concerned about exploding targets

An article in the Tyler Morning Telegraph explains how law enforcement authorities in Texas are concerned about the spreading use of exploding targets in the state. It also reports that an eight-year old boy was killed in Oklahoma by shrapnel from an exploding target.

Below is an excerpt:

Reports of mysterious, loud booming explosions in rural areas across East Texas have sheriff deputies and fire departments searching their jurisdictions for the cause.

Although there typically is no lingering smoke, fire or other signs to point authorities to locate the source, Smith County Sheriff’s Lt. Gary Middleton and other law enforcement officials believe many of the explosive sounds are the result of people using shooting targets designed to explode when hit.

“A lot of these calls are due to people shooting (various brands of explosive targets) which are perfectly legal across much of the nation at this time,” Middleton said.

The targets are sold as kits containing two chemical components — such as ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder — that separately are not explosive, but when mixed together are primed for eruption. The target kits are available to the public in most gun stores and large sporting goods retailers.

Manufacturers of the product say the products are safe when used as intended, but law enforcement officials warn improper use could result in serious injury. In several instances across the nation, the shrapnel from blasts resulted in serious injuries and death.

Earlier this year, an 8-year-old boy in Oklahoma was killed when an outdoor stove stuffed with the material was shot and exploded, sending shrapnel into the child. The child’s adult relative has been charged with manslaughter in the death…

Material for exploding target blamed for fatality in Oregon

A preliminary analysis by federal investigators indicates that materials used for exploding targets caused the death of a man on National Forest land near Mt. Hood in Oregon on Thursday, March 19.

A large explosion occurred at about 6:30 a.m. that left a crater 10 feet from U.S. Highway 26 that was more than 10 feet wide and 2 feet deep. The name of the person killed has not been released yet, but Dr. Karen Gunson, Oregon State medical examiner, confirmed the victim died of “blast injuries and body fragmentation.” Investigators have yet to determine if the blast was a homicide, suicide, or accident.

At this point, a spokesperson said, there is no reason to suspect it was a terrorist act.

Exploding targets, sometimes called “binary exploding targets”, are completely inert until two powders are mixed by the shooter. After the ingredients are combined, the compound is illegal to transport and is classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and is subject to the regulatory requirements in 27 CFR, Part 555.

The is the second fatality that we are aware of that was apparently caused by an exploding target. Not only have they started numerous vegetation fires, but the devices have previously caused death and injuries. In 2013 a man in Minnesota was killed when shrapnel from the device struck 47-year-old Jeffery Taylor in the abdomen causing him to collapse. He was declared dead before he could be transported to a hospital in a helicopter.

About three years ago Jennifer Plank Greer was struck by shrapnel while she was taking cell phone video of someone who shot at the explosive which was inside a refrigerator. Her hand was blown almost completely off, left hanging only by a portion of skin. Through 16 surgical procedures doctors reattached the hand, but she no longer has the use of her fingers, except for being able to wiggle her thumb.

On October 7, 2012 in Pennsylvania two state Game Commission workers suffered injuries including burns, temporary blindness and hearing damage when an illegal exploding target blew up while the men attempted to put out a fire at a gun range in Pike County.

In October Larry Chambers, National Press Officer for the U.S. Forest Service, told us there was no nationwide USFS policy regulating the use of exploding targets on National Forest Systems (NFS) lands.

There is no national exploding target prohibition by the Forest Service, and the agency fully recognizes hunting and safe target shooting as a valid use of National Forest System lands. The prohibition of exploding targets on some National Forest System lands is not intended to adversely affect the sport of target shooting.

Mr. Chambers said exploding targets are prohibited on NFS lands in USFS regions 1, 2, 4, and 6 (see the map below). California is not included, he said, because they are banned statewide by state law. Some National Forests in Regions 8, 9, and 10 may have local special orders that prohibit the used of exploding targets, Mr. Chamber said.

Some of the regional bans are only temporary, and expire in 2015.

US Forest Service regions map
U. S. Forest Service Regions. USFS map.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly.