A fun part of living in the wildland-urban interface is the range of pastimes that an outdoor enthusiast can find to occupy his or her free time. I love running my dogs in the hills and hiking with friends by the stream near my community. My dad, who is a target shooting enthusiast, suggested hiking out a ways and target shooting sometime soon. His only caution was that we’d need to be sure that fire weather watch or red flag warning conditions weren’t in effect for the day. We’d never want to cause a wildfire.
I was stunned. Target shooting? Cause a wildfire? He had to be kidding, right? Of course I nodded and agreed to save my reputation as a know-it-all with Dad, but after our discussion, I searched the internet for evidence. To say I found a lot on the subject is an understatement. I found a study the Forest Service published last year that spelled out some nerve-wracking details. The agency performed experiments to determine whether or not rifle bullets would ignite organic matter in the right circumstances and were met with a clear answer: yes. Here are some key points from what they found:
- “Rifle bullets striking hard surfaces can lead to ignition of organic material.”
- “Ignitions were regularly observed for bullets with steel components and solid copper components.”
- “Bullet fragments achieved temperatures of 1,200-1,400 °F.”
Read the study here.
Okay, hot bullet fragments can start wildfires. What do I do if I hear target shooting in the hills behind my house on a day when the conditions are just right for wildfire? I called Terry Taylor, fire captain and investigator with East Fork Fire Protection District for some answers.
Captain Taylor, who’s passionate about keeping the public informed about the risks of target shooting concerning wildfire, was happy to discuss the subject. Between 2012 and 2013, he surveyed a portion of western Nevada and found that target shooting caused 37 wildfires. The majority of these fires occurred on unoccupied private or public lands that were within a few miles of residential areas.
Is target shooting bound to start a wildfire? Not necessarily. Captain Taylor said that the conditions need to be right. Target shooting can cause wildfires in critical fire weather or red flag warning conditions especially when practiced near easily ignitable vegetation like dry cheatgrass. Also, all bullets are not made equal when it comes to target shooting and avoiding wildfire. Steel ammunition is the worst culprit, and many people who shoot with it don’t realize what it’s made out of because it’s covered with copper coating.
Captain Taylor suggests that homeowners call local law enforcement and explain their concerns if they hear target shooting during critical fire weather watch or red flag warning conditions. Law enforcement can make sure that the target shooters aren’t shooting unsafely and will also ensure that they’re following city and county ordinances.
Well this know-it-all learned something new! It’s good to know I can call local law enforcement if I’m concerned that a nearby target shooter might cause a wildfire. I’m also glad to have more information to help keep my community safe from the threat of wildfire.