Two men charged with starting 5,500-acre fire using exploding targets

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 on June 21 when they hit an explosive target that started the fire in nearby vegetation. Identified as 37-year-old Kenneth Nielsen of Washington, Utah, and 42-year-old Jeffrey Conant of Woodinville, Washington, they were charged with misdemeanor reckless burning and using prohibited targets,

We first wrote about the surge in popularity of exploding targets and the increasing number of wildfires caused by these devices on October 11, 2012. In that article we listed 21 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.

Car destroyed by exploding target
Car destroyed by exploding target. Credit

These devices 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.

Most of the wildfire community is only beginning to learn of of this disturbing trend.

Laws regulating the devices vary from state to state. CAL FIRE investigator Capt. Gregory Ewing, issued a safety bulletin following a June, 2012 fire in Riverside County that was started by exploding targets. He suggested that users of the targets could be charged with multiple felonies.

Possessing it with the intent to mix the two parts (thus creating an explosive) is a felony. Actually mixing the two parts is also a felony, and detonating it is yet another.

John N. Maclean, the author of several books about wildfires, in an October 18 OP-ED article on the New York Times’ web site, wrote about penalties that have been assessed against arsonists and others who have started wildfires. He briefly mentioned exploding targets:

Some practice shooters fire at exploding targets — store-bought canisters that blow up when pierced by a bullet. These are largely legal, but they should be banned immediately.

I agree with Mr. Maclean. It is ridiculous that these incendiary devices which have been demonstrated to be extremely dangerous in the hands of the average shooter, are legal. They should not only be illegal to transport after the two chemicals have been mixed, the kits to assemble them should not be legal to sell or possess.

Specific legislation is needed so that a person starting a fire with an exploding target can be charged with a crime that is more punitive than misdemeanor reckless burning or using prohibited targets, as was the case in the brain dead shooters that started the $2.1 million Dump Fire.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

10 thoughts on “Two men charged with starting 5,500-acre fire using exploding targets”

  1. One other thing while I’m on the subject. These targets are absolutely within the law. I have an ATF manfucturers license and I can assure that these and other exploding targets are legal. The ATF DOES NOT regulate binary explosives. Nor do they regulate the materials these targets are made of. The ATF considers these binary targets to be “reactive targets.” Nothing more, nothing less. Please, before you look your nose down on exploding targets, you do your homework and find out as much as you can before making stupid statements. Thanks!

    1. Don: You said:

      The ATF considers these binary targets to be “reactive targets.” Nothing more, nothing less. Please, before you look your nose down on exploding targets, you do your homework and find out as much as you can before making stupid statements.

      Doing you homework is a good idea. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives categorizes binary explosives, which is what these exploding targets are, as EXPLOSIVES after the two components are mixed together. “Nothing more, nothing less”. If you are behind on your homework, check it out HERE and HERE.

      On Wildfire Today we have documented many wildfires that were caused by exploding targets. Feel free to read the articles here tagged with “exploding targets”. With a quick internet search we were able to find 10 between June 13, 2012 and October 23, 2012.

      Yes, for now, they are legal, but most people when informed of how many fires they have started would be in favor of changing the law.

  2. I happen to own a small exploding target company. There is very little chance of these or any other exploding target starting a fire. These are NOT incendiary devices like one person said here. They are a true binary explosive. In the wrong hands (just as with a person with a gun, knife, or any other potential weapon of destruction) they can cause damage. However, if the buyer reads the instructions, and follows them, they will have an exploding target which is not only safe, but fun.

    Most manufacturers don’t like to admit that they’re targets COULD cause a fire. Well trust me on this one. They CAN cause fires if used incorrectly. We state that it’s important to not place the targets on dry grass, leaves, or tender. The targets, when detonated, do produce showering sparks capable of starting a fire if on dry material. Therefore we suggest the purchaser of our targets place them on bare dirt so this won’t happen. Nor should they place them on pebbles or gravel that could cause harmful shrapnel.

    As with any weapon or other item that produces sparks, these targets must be used with caution and care. We challenge anyone to prove these targets to be unsafe if used properly. If you follow our directions carefully, you’ll have a target that is loud, smokey, and will provide you with lots of fun. We do however, advise caution and responsibility.

  3. js,

    You should do some further research. There were dozens of examples of these exploding targets starting fires during this last fire season. Bill has several examples (articles), and there was one video of an exploding binary target starting a fire…. a little more than “water vapor” was produced.

  4. This artical is bull. The bianary target is simply a chemical reaction that releases WATER VAPOR at high pressure. It will not cause a fire unless u attach something to it that is flamable or gun powder. People that start head romors are the reason we are fighting to keep our rights as gun owners today.

  5. I agree with you. I would hope responsible fire arms owners would support such a move. Yet I fear there are some fringe elements that would see banning such explosive mixtures as an attack on 2nd amendment rights.

    1. These are not “explosive mixtures.” If they were, the BATFE would have something to say about the sale, use, and transportation of them. Because they are not considered explosives (the BATFE has issued a statement declaring them as such) they are much more difficult to regulate. Perhaps it is time for education rather than regulation. A simple acknowledgement of the fire potential by the manufacturers and corresponding label would perhaps make some difference.

      I would like to see it end up being treated the same as any other fire-causing agent. You get caught using it during a burn ban (which is tied to fire danger) and you get a ticket. A $200 fine will go a long way towards discouraging some of the downright stupid behavior we have seen.

      1. Mr. or Ms. “A”: I will be writing more about this later, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives DOES consider binary explosives, or binary exploding targets, to be “explosives” after the two components are mixed. Here is a quote from their web site:

        “When the binary components are combined, the resulting mixture is an explosive material subject to all requirements of 18 U.S.C. Chapter 40 and 27 CFR Part 555. Accordingly, all such exploding targets must be stored in an explosives storage magazine as prescribed in the regulations found in 27 CFR, Part 555, Subpart K—Storage, unless they are in the process of being used.

        Further, mixing the binary components together constitutes manufacturing explosives. Persons manufacturing explosives for their own personal, non-business use only (e.g., personal target practice) are not required to have a Federal explosives license or permit. However, individuals or companies must obtain a Federal explosives manufacturing license if they intend to engage in the business of manufacturing explosives for sale or distribution, or for their own business use.”


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