Investigators determine wildfire near Helena was started by exploding target

A suspect has been cited and may have to pay suppression costs

North Hills Fire Helena exploding target
Investigators determined that the North Hills Fire was started by an exploding target on July 26, 2019.

Investigators have determined that the North Hills Fire that burned 5,005 acres 10 miles northeast of Helena, Montana was started by a Tannerite exploding target July 26, 2019.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Independent Record:

Two citations were filed Thursday against the person suspected of starting the North Hills fire that burned more than 5,000 acres near Helena earlier this summer.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management law enforcement cited the suspect with one count of causing a fire other than a campfire and one count of burning timber, trees, slash and brush outside of a campfire. Each ticket carries a $500 fine plus a $30 processing fee for a total cost of $1,060.

The citations do not include the costs associated with suppressing the wildfire or rehabilitating the burned area. Any possible civil action will be handled administratively by the agencies involved.
The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has estimated the suppression costs “somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.2 million,” according to Helena Unit Manager John Huston.

“We probably will go after some suppression costs,” he said, noting that the process would probably take about a year.

Local and federal officials have declined to release the suspect’s name.

The North Hills Fire forced the evacuation of 400 homes northeast of Helena.

Walt Jester, Chief of the Lewis and Clark Volunteer Fire Department, took some excellent photos of the fire:

Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user explode when shot by a high-velocity projectile. They have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years, have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of one person. After the ingredients are combined, the compound is illegal to transport and is classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

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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.