Exploding targets, an increasing wildfire problem

Star Exploding Targets, flames
A screen grab from a video endorsed by Cabela’s demonstrating a Star Exploding Target. We added the arrow and the “Flames” text to point out that flames are visible following the explosion.

Originally published October 11, 2012, updated February 6, 2013

Targets that are designed to explode when shot with a rifle have become more popular in recent years, emerging as an increasing threat to our wildlands. The problem is, they sometimes start fires in spite of claims by the manufacturers saying they are safe.

The military has been using them for at least 20 years when training marksmen to hit targets hundreds of yards away, since it can be difficult to see if a target was hit at that distance. When struck with the bullet from a rifle, the explosion and smoke are easily seen and indicate that the shooter hit the target

They are sometimes called “binary exploding targets”, since they are completely inert until two powders are mixed at the site by the target shooter. After they are combined, the compound is illegal to transport. The manufacturers claim that the only way they can be detonated is by striking them with a high-velocity bullet fired from a high-powered center-fire rifle. At least one company has recently started offering targets that will explode when hit with a much less powerful .22 caliber rim-fire rifle.

While the manufacturers claim they can’t start a fire, the screen grab (above) from a video shows flames in the grass just after a target advertised by Cabela’s and manufactured by Star Exploding Targets, explodes. The video is below, however we expect that eventually Cabela’s and Star will remove it from YouTube. The flames are visible three seconds into the video at the bottom left.

In a quick search, we found numerous reports of wildfires having been caused by exploding targets in a 5-month period. The dates below indicate when the information was published.

  • June 17, 2012, Colorado. The Springer Fire in Park County on the Pike National Forest burned 1,045 acres. It was caused by exploding targets.
  • June 13, 2012, Idaho. Four wildfires were caused by shooters using exploding targets up to that date in 2012.
  • June 15, 2012, Washington. A small fire near the mouth of the Grande Ronde River was apparently started by someone shooting at exploding targets.
  • June 16, 2012, Utah. The 300-acre Little Cove fire was caused by shooters using exploding targets.
  • June 29, 2012, Utah. A fire investigator said eight wildfires in the previous three weeks were caused by shooters using exploding targets.
  • July 2, 2012, Nevada. A five-acre fire in Elko was caused by shooters using exploding targets.
  • August 19, 2012, Oregon. Five shooters were cited for starting a 35-acre fire using Tannerite exploding targets.
  • September 6, 2012, Washington. The Goat Fire burned 7,378 acres 3 miles southwest of Pateros, WA. It was started by exploding targets. Forest Service officials previously said two smaller fires — a 120-acre blaze in Mud Creek Entiat and one on Deadman Hill near Cashmere — may also have been ignited by exploding targets.
  • October 7, 2012, 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.
  • October 11, 2012, California. A 364-acre fire was started by shooters using exploding targets. A news report (see video below) shows two pounds of the explosive being used to blow up a car.
  • October 19, 2012, Utah. Two men have been charged with starting the Dump fire near Saratoga Springs, Utah that burned more than 5,500 acres and cost $2.1 million to put out. About 2,500 people were forced to evacuate. Investigators say the men were shooting June 21 when they hit an explosive target that started the fire in vegetation.
  • October 23, 2012, Nebraska. Three men have been charged with starting a fire by using exploding targets in Nebraska, and starting the Spotted Tail fire that burned 83 acres south of Chadron October 23.

This is a total of 24 fires that were either confirmed or suspected to be caused by exploding targets since the first of June, 2012. And these are just the ones that we were able to find using Google.

In most areas in the western United States exploding targets are illegal to use if there is a law or temporary ban on open fires.

One of the primary manufacturers of the targets is Tannerite. The company has a patent on the devices and has said the fires are caused by other companies infringing on their patent and adding an additional incendiary component in order to produce a more spectacular explosion.

At an online forum for firearms enthusiasts, The Firing Line, some of the posters decry the lack of wisdom of target shooters who start fires with exploding targets. A person using the moniker “g.willikers” wrote:

It seems that we gun owners have two enemies. Those who would deprive us of our gun rights. And those who throw those rights away.

Others on the forum suggested some alternative targets that can produce an impressive display when hit with a bullet, such as:

  • A milk jug filled with water
  • Potatoes
  • Pop can filled with water
  • Fresh cow pie

UPDATE October 12, 2012:

Ken told us about this news report that appeared on television in southern California October 11, 2012, explaining and demonstrating the hazards of these explosive targets. They use two pounds of the explosive to blow up a car, and Chief John Hawkins of CAL FIRE provides his point of view on the problem.

Lightning over Utah

Many areas of the Eastern Great Basin had lightning storms and passing rain showers yesterday; crews in southwestern and northern Utah were helped out a bit by light rainstorms. The Little Pine Fire, southwest of Enterprise on the Dixie National Forest, burned 2,100 acres and threatened about a dozen buildings. It’s burning in piñon-juniper, cheatgrass, and oak brush. A Type 3 team is assigned, and there’s currently zero containment.  Evacuations were in effect yesterday.

The Pinyon Fire this week evacuated dozens of homes in Eagle Mountain and threatened the town of Herriman. Today it’s still at 60 percent containment at 5,771 acres. Late last evening, 35 mph winds from a passing storm caused numerous flare-ups, but containment lines held. Engine crews worked through the night on hot spots and mop-up; today they’re focusing on securing lines and mopping up.

Firing operations along Tickville Road, Pinyon Fire near Herriman
Firing operations along Tickville Road, Pinyon Fire near Herriman

Gusty winds on Wednesday spread embers over the lines and more than doubled the size of the Pinyon Fire. It was about 60 percent contained yesterday, according to a report by the Salt Lake Tribune. Information Officer Kim Osborn said crews were mopping up as the fire continued creeping and smoldering. Fire managers were focused on keeping the fire away from a remote artillery training area on Utah National Guard property; hundreds of unexploded munitions are buried on the site.

On the DI Ranch Fire west of Utah Hill, gusty winds on Thursday shifted and pushed the fire from 75 percent containment back to about 50 percent. Last night it was back to 20 percent containment at 900 acres. The fire’s burning in brush and cheatgrass.

Wilderness Fires in Utah and Montana

The Dallas Canyon Fire, about 50 miles west of Salt Lake City, was mapped today at 43,610 acres. Ignited by lightning on July 27, the fire’s burning in the Cedar Mountain Wilderness Area southwest of the community of Delle. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the fire area includes sensitive habitat for sage grouse, pronghorn antelope, and wild burros — along with raptor nesting grounds.

Resources on the fire include about 360 firefighters, and Erik Haberstick’s team put the fire at 60 percent containment this morning.

Another wilderness fire, the Rapid Creek Fire in the Bob Marshall, took off yesterday. The Great Falls Tribune reported that the fire is 27 miles west of Augusta.

Rapid Creek Fire
The fire was reported at about noon on Sunday by two different lookouts. It was estimated at 3,000 acres late yesterday, burning in heavy timber and mountain pine beetle kill, and it grew to over 5,000 acres by this morning.

Dave Cunningham with the Lewis and Clark National Forest said an incident management team and air resources have been ordered; fire behavior has included sustained crown runs. The Rapid Creek Fire yesterday burned over the Continental Divide and into the Triple Divide Fire, then into the Elbow Pass Fire. Sheriff’s deputies and USFS personnel contacted cabin owners and others in the area and warned them that the fire could move toward the Benchmark Corridor.

The 700-acre Elbow Pass Fire in the Scapegoat started on July 12 southwest of Augusta, and the Triple Divide fire west of Augusta is at about 7 acres.  The complex is being managed as a suppression fire.

Air tanker veers off runway while attempting takeoff at Cedar City

A single engine air tanker (SEAT) veered off the runway while it was attempting to take off at Cedar City, Utah on July 12. There were strong winds at the time due to thunderstorms in the area. The SEAT, Tanker 896, apparently lost control due to the wind and exited the runway, but remained upright.

Our source told us that there were no injuries and that there was minimal obvious damage to the aircraft. However, it was removed from the airport on July 15 by the owner, who replaced it with another SEAT.

A SAFECOM report was filed, but it has not yet appeared on the web site.

Utah: Fatality found in evacuated area of Wood Hollow fire

The Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office released this information today about a fatality on the Wood Hollow fire south of Salt Lake City, north of Mt. Pleasant, Utah.


Wood Hollow Fire fatality

Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office

NEWS RELEASE — Wood Hollow Fire

Sheriff Brian Nielson

For immediate release

June 26, 2012/3:00 p.m.

Wood Hollow Fire claims one life in Sanpete County

Sanpete County Utah – Sanpete County Sheriff’s deputies and Sanpete County Search & Rescue entered the evacuated areas of the Wood Hollow Fire this morning for assessments and have found the body of one person. The individual has not been identified at this time. We ask for your patience as we work to identify this individual and notify the family as soon as we can.

The Sheriff’s Office offers its deepest sympathy to all who have suffered loss and is working as hard as it can with the other emergency responders.

Tuesday’s assessment was scheduled to assess the fire’s damages and try to determine when property owners could get back into their properties. More details will be released at a later time.

The Wood Hollow Fire, which started Saturday afternoon, continues to burn and has expanded to more than 39,000 acres. At last report the fire had been confirmed at 15 percent containment. Today, the east side of U.S. 89 had its evacuations lifted and residents in Fairview Ranchos were also let in. Sanpete County is leaving the evacuation orders in effect for the west side of Hwy 89. It is unknown if evacuations will be put in place again as the fire is now with approx two miles of the west side of U.S. 89.

The Sheriff’s Office continues to post updates to evacuations and other safety information at http://twitter.com/sanpetesheriff. People may also follow the hashtag #woodhollowfire on Twitter.


“Dump” fire causing evacuations south of Salt Lake City

Dump fire, 1 pm June 22, 2012
Map of Dump fire 1 p.m., June 22, 2012, showing heat detected by satellites. Wildfire Today/MODIS

UPDATE at 5:49 p.m. MT, June 22, 2012

A type 2 Incident Management Team, Great Basin #5 with Wilde as Incident Commander, has been dispatched to the fire. At 5 p.m. @UtahFireInfo said the fire had burned 4,000 acres.


3:37 p.m. MT, June 22, 2012

I was just interviewed by KSL, a news radio station in Salt Lake City that wanted some general information about wildfires and fire behavior because a fire unfortunately named “Dump” is causing evacuations about 10 miles south of Salt Lake City. As you can see by the map, the fire is burning just west of Utah Lake on a mountain between the communities of Eagle Mountain and Sarasota Springs. From infrared imagery provided by a satellite, it appears to be approximately 3.0 by 1.6 miles, which works out to about 3,000 acres.

Reports from a nearby weather station indicate that there has been a strong 15 to 20 mph south to southwest wind with gusts up to 33 mph pushing the fire to the north and northeast, accompanied by relative humidity as low as 8 percent.

Approximately 500 homes have been evacuated and so far none have burned, according to Amy Iverson, the KSL news anchor that interviewed me at about 3:10 p.m. today.