Video of exploding target starting a fire

The U.S. Attorney’s office in the district of Colorado has been very proactive over the last year in dealing with the issue of exploding targets, which are known to start wildfires as well as injuring and even killing bystanders. Their office produced the video above which has been used in other parts of the country to support the prohibition of exploding targets on federal and state managed lands.

In the slow motion part of the video be sure to notice the extensive shrapnel being blown away at high speed..

Recently the U.S. Forest Service presented an award to U.S. Attorney John F. Walsh for his office’s support to the U.S. Forest Service in protecting national forest system lands within the Rocky Mountain Region (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming) from the effects of exploding targets. Walsh dedicated his staff to work with the U.S. Forest Service to plan, communicate and implement a prohibition of these devices that have caused multiple wildland fires since 2012.

exploding target award John Walsh

From left to right, Associate Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Mary Wagner; United States Attorney, District of Colorado John F. Walsh; Director Law Enforcement and Investigations of the U.S. Forest Service David Ferrell; Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Tom Tidwell. (USFS photo.)

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Update on the legality of exploding targets

Regular readers of Wildfire Today know that we have been covering the use and the prohibition of exploding targets. The devices have become popular in the last three years with shooters who get a thrill from seeing the explosion when their bullet hits its mark. We have documented numerous wildfires that have been started by exploding targets. Sometimes called “binary exploding targets”, they 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.

An example of one fire was the Ten-Mile Fire in Idaho in July, 2012. It was started by a property owner who was shooting an exploding target on his land. The target ignited a fire that threatened at least two homes and burned 440 acres of federal land. The owner agreed to pay $168,500 to cover taxpayer costs of suppressing the fire.

Not only can they start fires, but exploding targets can cause 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 two 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 an article published August 20, 2014, titled “7 ways children can have fun at the shooting range”, the NRA lists exploding targets as number seven, saying about the devices:

These are on the top of the “fun” list. The resounding “BOOM” and puff of smoke is fun to see, hear and smell. We shot some with a couple of LG’s teammates and had a BLAST…Exploding targets can be quite expensive, and you do need to be extra careful.

Much of the land in the United States where target shooters wish to use exploding targets is administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

National Forests map

U.S. Forest Service system lands. USFS map.

In July, Larry Chambers, National Press Officer for the U.S. Forest Service, was quoted in the Spokesman Review:

The Forest Service is working to clarify and better define existing regulations that impact the use of exploding targets on national forest system lands,” said Larry Chambers, Forest Service media relations officer in Washington, D.C. ”Our current focus is on educating the public.” It might be several weeks before agency officials react on a national basis, he said.

Today Mr. Chambers told us there is still no nationwide USFS policy:

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 National Forest Systems (NFS) lands in most of the western states, in USFS regions 1, 2, 4, and 6 (see the map below). They have also been banned on NFS lands in Texas and Oklahoma, but we are checking to determine if the prohibitions in those two states are still in effect. 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 Region numbers. USFS map.

Other exploding target prohibitions:

  • On April 20, 2014 the Bureau of Land Management issued a ban on exploding targets on BLM lands within the state of Idaho, to be effective between May 10 and October 20, 2014.
  • Under a new Maryland law passed after heavy lobbying by state fire investigators, the devices can no longer be purchased, used or carried in Maryland by anyone without an explosives license.
  • Idaho state law prohibits use of exploding targets, tracer ammunition and other fire-causing materials on state range and forest lands during the “closed fire season,” which generally runs May 10 to Oct. 20.
  • In Washington and Oregon the BLM bans exploding targets from spring through fall during the wildfire season.
  • A state law in Washington bans exploding targets and tracer ammunition year-round on state-managed lands.
  • A new law in Oregon took effect this year that bans exploding targets and tracer ammunition on state-protected lands during fire season.
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Fire that orphaned mountain lion cubs was started by exploding target

mountain lion cubs fire

Sara Steele and Liz Shellenbarger dry off the mountain lion cubs found under a burning log. Photo by Cory Rennaker, Bitterroot National Forest Helitack, USFS.

Investigators have confirmed that shooters using exploding targets started the Three Mile Fire nine miles east of Florence, Montana in August. The fire burned about 50 acres before firefighters extinguished it at a cost estimated at $94,000.

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, although wet from the 600 gallons of water, were rescued.

Mountain lion cubs

Photo by Cory Rennaker, Bitterroot National Forest Helitack, USFS.

A few weeks after being rescued, the cubs, named Lewis and Clark, were adopted by the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo and Aquarium, and on September 23 made an appearance on David Letterman’s show. During the first two minutes of the video below, Jack Hanna tells Dave about the blank spot in his brain, and then the cubs are brought on.

We have written about exploding targets many times before. The dangerous devices consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user create an explosive when shot by a high-velocity projectile.

Exploding targets have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years. They 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.

The U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets in the Northern Region, which includes Montana. The Three Mile Fire occurred on state protected land in a Wildlife Management Area where target shooting is not permissible. The state of Montana has not taken action to specifically prohibit the use of exploding targets, although they can become illegal when fire restrictions are in place.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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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