Man killed by exploding target; USFS bans them in the northwest

A man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed June 15 by an exploding target. After someone shot the device, shrapnel struck 47-year-old Jeffery Taylor in the abdomen causing him to collapse. KARE11 reported “he was driven to a nearby location where the Rushford Ambulance and Mayo One helicopter were waiting to transport him, but Taylor was pronounced dead on the scene.”

Exploding targets have become popular in the last year with target 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. The manufacturers of the devices 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. But at least one company has recently started offering targets that will explode when hit with a much less powerful .22 caliber rim-fire rifle.

In addition to the fatality, we are aware of at least two other incidents where exploding targets caused injuries. In October of 2012 Ronald Rofshus was building one of them in Minnesota when it exploded, blowing off his hand and causing severe burns. 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.

Safety alert exploding targets
Safety alert exploding targets. Minnesota DNR

Obviously exploding targets are not only a hazard to our lands, but also to shooters and others who may come in contact with them. Kristin Benson, the Safety Administrator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, developed a Safety Alert to warn people about some of the hazards. Minnesota has no restrictions on the use of exploding targets.

The U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets on national forests in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas according to Forest Service spokeswoman Sarah Levy. A violation of the recently implemented ban in Washington and Oregon is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations, or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.

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.

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.

With a quick Google search In October we found 23 wildfires that investigators attributed to exploding targets. Another search today found four more since then or that we did not include in the first list, bringing the total that we are aware of to 27:

  • March 17, 2012, South Dakota. The Beretta II Fire burned 25 acres south of Rapid City near Beretta Road off Highway 16. It took more than 100 firefighters, two air tankers, and a Black Hawk helicopter to put it out.
  • May 4, 2013, Washington. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources determined that the 200-acre Dog Mountain Fire in Lewis County near Riffe Lake was started by an exploding target; 100 firefighters and two helicopters suppressed it. An article at KING5 reports that two other fires in the state this year were also caused by exploding targets.

The Rapid City Journal wrote an editorial July 9 calling for a ban on exploding targets, disagreeing with Denny Gorton, the president of the South Dakota Firefighters Association who was quoted as saying, “I’m not sure we’ve been able to show enough of a correlation to get it regulated or outlawed.”

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.

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.

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

Exploding targets: should they be banned?

The issue of exploding targets is receiving more attention as additional evidence is revealed about fires started by these devices. We have written about them a number of times, and now the Wenatchee World has called attention to the issue today in an article by KC Mehaffey. You may recognize some of the names in this excerpt from the article. (Update: a new pay wall may prevent you from viewing the article at that web site. The San Francisco Chronicle also has it, after the story was picked up by the AP.)

Kelsey Hilderbrand, owner of High Mountain Hunting Supply in Wenatchee, said he’s only familiar with Tannerite’s exploding targets. which he sells at his store for between $4.95 and $9 apiece, depending on the size. “We sell a lot of them. They’re very popular, and they’re a lot of fun,” he said. Hilderbrand said he’s used them a lot, using a haystack as a backdrop, and the targets have never started a fire.

“They are a gaseous explosion,” he said, “They are not a heat-related explosion, so there’s no way to have an ignition-based system.”

Others disagree.

“There’s no question they start fires,” said Bill Gabbert, a former wildland firefighter and fire investigator in Southern California who now produces the online magazine, Wildfire Today.

Gabbert said he found 23 wildfires ignited by exploding target shooters last summer just by searching the Internet. He said he believes they are a growing danger because more and more people are starting to use them.

“It’s just become so popular. If you search on YouTube, you’ll see dozens or hundreds of videos,” he said.

But even if some people think they are fun, Gabbert says exploding targets are nothing to play around with. His website links to a newscast in which a car is demolished by detonating exploding targets.

“I think we need to figure out a way to ban the use of exploding targets,” he said, adding, “I’m convinced they are too dangerous to use.”

John Maclean — author of several books on fatal wildfires including one on the 2001 Thirtymile Fire near Winthrop — said he’s concerned about the danger that exploding targets pose to firefighters.

I am a gun owner, hunter, was on an NCAA varsity Rifle Team in college, and was a member of the NRA before they transmogrified, adopting ridiculous policies. My home is protected by Glock and several other brands. Target shooting is fine as long as it is done safely and does not start fires, damage the environment, or leave behind trash. But the use of these explosive devices during the 2012 fire season has proven that they are incendiary, and too many people have started fires by using them.

Utah: update on bill to restrict target shooting during enhanced wildfire danger

The bill that Utah state senator Margaret Dayton withdrew after it received criticism from shooting enthusiasts will continue to be pushed through the legislative process, the senator announced on Thursday. The bill would give the state forester authority to temporarily restrict target shooting during periods of enhanced wildfire danger. The new version of the bill would stipulate that the ban could only be enacted with the support of the locally elected sheriff.

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.

Ban bird watching?

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Salt Lake Tribune.

[Senator Dayton] decided to hold the bill last week to try to iron out the differences, but the two sides couldn’t forge a compromise. [Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark] Aposhian didn’t attend Dayton’s press event Thursday.

“He did not agree to this,” Dayton said. “We didn’t ask the gun community to be present today. But we feel by working with Representative Curt Oda and the Sheriffs’ Association, we can help people understand these are intense efforts to protect Second Amendment rights.”

Aposhian said he wanted the bill to restrict access to everyone — not just target shooters.

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