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

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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

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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.

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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

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Utah bill approved to restrict target shooting during enhanced fire danger

The Governor of Utah has signed legislation, S.B. 120, that will allow the state forester to restrict target shooting during periods of enhanced wildfire danger.

When first introduced by state Senator Margaret Dayton it was temporarily withdrawn after the bill received criticism from some, including Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark Aposhian who was quoted as saying:

If it restricts gun owners from going there, then it should also restrict bird watchers. It has to be closed to everybody.

The legislation does not close areas to the public. It allows the state forester to “restrict or prohibit target shooting in areas where hazardous conditions exist”.

According to Utah State Forester Dick Buehler, of the 1,528 fires in the state in 2012, 33 were caused by target shooting which cost over $16 million to suppress. In October, 2012 when we wrote about the increasing number of fires started by target shooters using exploding targets, we found 10 fires started by these devices in Utah over a 5-month period last year. One of them burned over 5,500 acres.

The legislature in Oregon is considering a bill, HB 3199, that would prohibit the use of sky lanterns (or fire balloons), exploding targets, and tracer ammunition on land within the boundaries of a forest protection district.

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Wildfire briefing, February 27, 2013

Fire burns 407 acres near Lone Pine, California

Map of River FireCAL FIRE expects to fully contain the River Fire on Thursday which has burned 407 acres east of Lone Pine, California. Thick brush and winds measured at 25 mph challenged the 500 firefighters that initially fought the blaze after it started on Sunday. Remaining on the fire Wednesday morning are 234 personnel, 11 engines, 6 crews, and 2 water tenders. CAL FIRE is calling it 85 percent contained.

Oregon may regulate exploding targets and sky lanterns

A bill has been introduced in the Oregon legislature, HB 3199, that would prohibit the use of sky lanterns (or fire balloons), exploding targets, and tracer ammunition on land within the boundaries of a forest protection district. (UPDATE: the bill was signed by the Governor and will take effect January 1, 2014.)

“Concealed carry is a right, target shooting is not”

Those were the words of Utah state senator Margaret Dayton who resurrected her bill that would give the state forester the authority to ban target shooting on state lands during periods of enhanced wildfire danger. Earlier she withdrew the bill after it received criticism from some shooting enthusiasts. The bill passed the Senate this week along with another that would allow firefighters to access water on privately owned land to aid them in fire suppression efforts.

According to Utah State Forester Dick Buehler, of the 1,528 fires in the state in 2012, 33 were caused by target shooting which cost over $16 million to suppress. In October, 2012 when we wrote about the increasing number of fires started by target shooters using exploding targets, we found 10 fires started by these devices in Utah over a 5-month period last year. One of them burned over 5,500 acres.

Colorado Senate considers legislation regulating prescribed fires

A bill is speeding through the Colorado Senate that would add safeguards to prescribed fires conducted in the state. Senate Bill 13-083 would:

  • Establish control over prescribed burning within the Division of Fire Prevention and Control in the Department of Public Safety;
  • “Prescribed Burn Managers” must be certified by the Division for prescribed fires occurring on state lands or conducted by state agencies on private lands. This does not apply to “burning conducted by an agency of the federal government”;
  • A Prescribed Burn Manager must be on site during a prescribed burn “until the fire is adequately confined to reasonably prevent escape”;
  • Allows the Division to collect fees for providing training and certifications.

Getting manufactured crisis fatigue?

While the people we send to Washington to conduct the nation’s business have not passed a federal budget in four years, and they propel us from one manufactured crisis to another, some of us may tire of the hype as we reel from one ridiculous deadline to another. Unfortunately the impacts on the land management agencies from the budget cuts required by the sequester will be significant unless they are reversed within the next few weeks.

On October 13, we first wrote about the sequester, which will require federal wildland fire programs to be cut by at least $218 million, or 8.2 percent.

Here are some excerpts from an article at the Union Democrat with examples of impacts on the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service in California:

The Associated Press obtained a Park Service memo Friday that detailed some of the planned Yosemite cuts. Staff reductions would end guided ranger programs at Wawona and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, eliminate a program in which 3,500 volunteers provide 40,000 hours of activities and mean less frequent trash pickup due to loss of campground staff.

Park administrators fear that less frequent trash pickup would potentially attract bears into campgrounds.

Seasonal road closures like that of Tioga Road may be extended later than usual because there will be less staff available to clear snow.

“The reductions would limit the National Park Service’s ability to sustain a full complement of seasonal employees needed for interpretive programs, maintenance, law enforcement and other visitor services as we are preparing for the busy summer season. Local communities and businesses that rely on recreation to support their livelihoods would face a loss of income from reduced visitation to national parks.”

In the Stanislaus National Forest, cuts could reduce funds available for fuels reductions that help prevent catastrophic forest fires. About $134 million in lost wildland fire management funds would lead to as many as 200,000 fewer acres treated nationwide, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote in a letter dated Feb. 5 to U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Forest Service is also prepared to close up to 670 of 19,000 developed recreation sites nationwide, such as campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads, according to Vilsack.

Webinar today: Debunking Myths in Wildland Fire

Today from 1 until 2 p.m. MT:

Sarah McCaffrey will present findings from recent research on social issues of fire management with particular emphasis on the accuracy of various accepted truths about the public and fire management and the variables that actually are associated with approval of different fire management practices.

More info and registration details.

Thanks go out to George

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