Oregon: 36 Pit Fire

(UPDATED at 10:25 a.m. PDT, September 18, 2014)

Investigators have determined that target shooting was the cause of the fire. The fire has burned 4,101 acres and the incident management team is calling it 30 percent contained.


(Originally published at 8:37 p.m. PDT September 15, 2014)

The 36 Pit Fire 10 miles southeast of Estacada along highway 224 in Oregon has burned 2,300 acres since it started on September 13. The area is under a Red Flag Warning and evacuations are under way.

The description of the video:

Here is some raw video of the why OR 224 is closed due to the 36 Pit Wildfire burning right along the highway. Even the guardrail is on fire. The wildfire is also causing trees to fall and rocks to slide into the highway. The smoke is so thick in some spots you can’t even see the road ahead. OR 224 will remain closed for the safety of travelers and those fighting the wildfire.

More information is at InciWeb.


Wildfire briefing, September 12, 2014

Three homes damaged in Washington wildfire

A fire near White Salmon, Washington in the Columbia River Gorge damaged three residences Thursday afternoon. The spread of the Copper Fire was stopped at 10 acres and it was almost contained by 9 p.m. Thursday.

Bears are a problem on the fire in Yosemite

Firefighters on the Meadow Fire in Yosemite National Park in California are having to deal with bears as well as the fire. The critters are described as a “major issue” for the safety of fire crews that are staying overnight in spike camps in remote areas near the fire. Measures are being taken to not attract bears to the food and other supplies. Trash is being backhauled daily.

The Meadow Fire started on July 19 and was monitored but not suppressed until it grew substantially on September 7. It is now 4,906 acres and the incident management team is saying it is 50 percent controlled.

Slow wildfire season saves Montana money

The wildfire season that has been much slower than normal in Montana has led to the lowest spending on firefighting in a decade. The number of acres burned in the state this year has been 12 percent of the five-year average. The $1.7 spent so far leaves about $44 million in the fire suppression fund that will be available to use next year.

New system to determine fire danger during Santa Ana winds

The U.S. Forest Service has worked with San Diego Gas & Electric and UCLA to develop a new system to calculate localized fire danger during the strong Santa Ana wind events that typically blow across southern California during the last months of the year. In addition to considering the typical inputs such as temperature, wind speed, relative humidity, and vegetation moisture, the “Fire Prep” program will also analyze the history of each target area over the previous 30 years. The USFS plans to send alerts designed to help fire agencies, other emergency responders and the public take appropriate action based on the threat level.

The system will be unveiled on September 17.

Nine naturally occurring eternal flames

An article at mnn.com lists and has photos of nine sites around the world that have naturally occurring fires burning almost non-stop – many of them for centuries. Most of the fires are fueled by natural gas or methane. There are dozens or hundreds of underground coal fires burning that are not listed, but those are typically difficult or impossible to see or photograph.

Lava flow less than half a mile from subdivision

The lava flowing from the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii is now less than half a mile from the Kaohe Homestead subdivision boundary.

Target practice banned in some areas of California during drought

Excerpts from the Ramona Home Journal:

Cal Fire recently announced restrictions on recreational shooting of guns on public lands due to the extreme risk of wildfire that can result from discharging weapons during the current dry conditions.

Shooting is restricted by County Code when the California Department of Forestry proclaims a “high fire hazard,” which it did on June 20, 2014, making it unlawful for any person to discharge a firearm within State Responsibility Areas until the proclamation is lifted.

According to Cal Fire, there has been an increase in fires caused by recreational shooting across San Diego County, including the General Fire in 2013, and the Border Fire last month. Fire suppression costs for shooting-related incidents in San Diego County cost taxpayers more than two million dollars a year. The announcement from the agency also cited the Health and Safety Code, which states that persons who are responsible for starting a fire will be liable for the costs resulting from that fire.


Researchers study ignition of wildfires by rifle bullets

Still photos, bullet impact(Click the photo to see a larger version. These photos are from the research paper referenced below.)

In research that was published in August, it was found that all types of rifle bullets studied were capable of starting fires in vegetation after being deflected by a steel plate. Fragments of most of the bullets that scientists at the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station collected in a bed of peat moss reliably caused ignitions, specifically those containing steel components (core or jacket) and those made of solid copper. Lead core-copper jacketed bullets caused only one ignition in these tests. Solid copper bullets were the most consistent in producing ignitions at all angles and all targets.

Many wildfires are caused by target shooting, so it is helpful to have some actual data examining how they are ignited and by what type of ammunition. Lead core copper jacket bullets appear to have a low probability of starting fires.

While the military has conducted numerous studies on bullet fragmentation, this is the first time that researchers have looked at the probability of ignition (PI) in vegetation.

This research shows that fires can be ignited by hot fragments of the bullets due to the heat generated when the kinetic energy of the lead, copper, or steel is transformed to thermal energy by plastic deformation and fracturing from the high-strain rates during impact. Lead has a lower melting point than copper or steel, which contributes to the lower PI of lead core bullets.

Probability of ignition of bullets

In the study a high-speed video camera was used at frame rates of 8,000 to 100,000 frames per second to attempt to capture impact fragmentation and impact flash. Usually the camera was positioned from behind the bullet as it was fired. Researchers found that a camera placed in front of the bullet lasted only one series before being destroyed by a fragment.

The study was conducted by Mark A. Finney, Trevor B. Maynard, Sara S. McAllister, and Ian J. Grob.

Below is a video shot by a company that sells a 1,000,000 frame per second camera, showing bullets striking various objects. We are hoping to gain access to the video shot by the USFS researchers. If we do, we’ll post it here.


Thanks go out to Ken


Forest Service bans exploding targets in Rocky Mountain Region

The U.S. Forest Service announced today that the agency has banned exploding targets on National Forest system lands in the Rocky Mountain Region. In October when we first wrote about these devices that explode when shot with a rifle, we listed 24 wildfires we found with a quick internet search that were started by shooters using the targets in 2012.

Exploding targets have become popular in the last year with shooters who get a thrill from seeing the explosion when their bullet hits its mark. The devices are sometimes called “binary exploding targets”, since they are completely inert until two powders are mixed by the target shooter. After they 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.

In June a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed by an exploding target. After someone shot the device, shrapnel struck 47-year-old Jeffery Taylor in the abdomen causing his death.

The new ban affects national forest system lands in the states of Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, and Kansas. Under the Order prohibiting the devices, anyone using them can face a fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment of not more than 6 months. The Order is effective for one year and expires August 2, 2014.

The U.S. Forest Service has previously banned exploding targets on national forests in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas according to Forest Service spokeswoman Sarah Levy.

The Bureau of Land Management bans them during certain times on their land in some states — not only the use but the possession of the devices.

“The Bureau of Land Management is working on a Fire Prevention Order that will ban exploding targets on BLM lands in Colorado as well,” said John Bierk, State Staff Ranger for BLM Colorado/Eastern States.

They are also banned or soon will be when new legislation takes effect on state lands, at least under some conditions, in Washington, Utah, Oregon, and Idaho.

Exploding targets have started at least 16 wildfires since 2012 on Forest Service lands in 8 western states causing the federal government to spend approximately $33.6 million in suppression costs. The U.S. Forest Service provided the table below which lists seven fires started by exploding targets in the Rocky Mountain Region during that time period. The fires burned a total of 1,187 acres in the Region and cost $2.9 million to suppress.

Fires caused by exploding targets

“Exploding targets pose a very real safety threat to visitors and our employees” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

“We have seen a significant increase in the use of exploding targets on National Forest lands within the Region” said U.S. Forest Service Regional Special Agent in Charge Laura Mark. “Our objective is to educate the public on the dangers associated with the use of these targets in vegetation that can ignite a fire, as well as the safety risk they pose to the public, our employees and first responders. In addition to the seven fires caused by exploding targets on national forests in the Region since 2012, explosives ordinance demolition experts have had to respond on three occasions this year to safely dispose of unused targets that had been mixed but not yet used.”


Thanks go out to Rick


Exploding targets start fires in the Black Hills

We have written many times about exploding targets, the incendiary devices that when shot with a rifle produce a smoke cloud. The companies that manufacture them claim that when shot, they will not start fires. However, the actual facts are very different.

Below is an excerpt from an article published by the Rapid City Journal this week about how these dangerous devices are becoming more popular in the Black Hills. You may recognize a name in the story.

Target shooters have always enjoyed the sight and sound of a perfect shot.

But thanks to a relatively new product on the market, the experience now threatens the safety of firefighters and the property of anyone who lives in a fire-prone area.

The emergence of exploding targets, which can be bought off the shelf in many stores, has started two fires in the Black Hills and one near Chadron, Neb., which led to charges against the target shooters.

As the targets become more popular, it is causing alarm in the firefighting community.

“Within the last one to two years, we’ve seen a large increase in their use and the wildfires that have been caused by them,” said Special Agent Brenda J. Schultz of the U.S. Forest Service…

UPDATE: The U. S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets in national forests in Washington and Oregon.


Thanks go out to Carl.


Man who started 17,000-acre fire sentenced to probation

Sunflower fire

Sunflower fire. USFS photo by David Albo.

The man who started the 17,446-acre Sunflower Fire 34 miles northeast of Phoenix has been sentenced to two years of probation, a $2,000 fine, and 200 hours of community service to be served with the Forest Service.

It cost taxpayers $4.4 million to suppress the fire. The U.S. Forest Service did not seek restitution.

On May 12, 2012, Craig Shiflet and four of his friends woke up in the Sycamore Creek area of the Tonto National Forest during a multiday campout-bachelor party for one member of the group. Mr. Shiflet loaded a Fiocchi incendiary round into his 12 gauge shotgun and fired at a soda box, apparently unconcerned about the warning on the box of shells which stated:

Shoots 100 feet of fire, setting everything in its path ablaze. Warning: Extreme FIRE HAZARD

The vegetation began burning and the group tried unsuccessfully to stomp the fire out. Mr. Shiflet reported the fire to 911 and was instructed to leave the area by the dispatcher.

Here is an excerpt from an article at The Smoking Gun:

Federal agents began investigating the fire the day after its ignition. Witnesses provided probers with the license plate number of a GMC Yukon that was seen departing the Sunflower Fire. The vehicle was “occupied by five white males in their 20’s,” reported Lucas Woolf, a Forest Service agent.

After tracing the SUV to Pace, Woolf approached him on May 19 (the day of Reeder’s wedding) and said he wanted to talk about the Sunflower Fire. “I think that we may have had something to do with that,” Pace replied.

Woolf then interviewed Shiflet, who recalled firing an “orange shotgun round” at a soda box, expecting the round to “shoot out flame or act like a flare gun.” Shiflet provided Woolf with the “exact same type of shotgun shell that he fired” on May 12, triggering the massive blaze.

The photo below is an example of the use of an incendiary magnesium-based shotgun shell.

flamethrower shotgun shell