Wildfires at shooting ranges have become a frequent occurrence in recent years, with sometimes devastating consequences.
There have been several wildfires in the past few years at shooting ranges in Alaska caused by the use of incendiary rounds and exploding targets. These are often unintentional, but as with all human caused fires when weather is hot and dry they can quickly grow out of control. Just last weekend on May 7th, a 0.1 acre wildfire was put out on-scene near the Fort Wainwright Small Arms Complex east of Fairbanks. According to the BLM Alaska Fire Service, the 0.1 acre fire was caused when an incendiary round was used during military training on the range. Individuals who use these rounds and targets should take steps to prevent wildfires. Shoot only in areas without vegetation, avoid shooting guns in dry and windy conditions and being aware of the potential for sparks and flames to start fast moving wildfires.
Exploding targets, which consist of two chemicals that react when mixed together, can also spark wildfires. When a bullet hits the target, the impact causes the two chemicals to combine and create a small explosion. The heat and flames generated by the explosion can ignite nearby vegetation, leading to a wildfire. On the Kenai in 2015 the one acre Escape Route Fire resulted from an exploding target hung from a branch over a field of dead grass.
Incendiary rounds, also known as tracer rounds, contain a chemical compound that ignites when the round is fired, creating a visible trail of light. These rounds are often used in military and law enforcement training, but they are also used for recreational shooting. When fired into dry vegetation, the incendiary material can ignite a fire that quickly spreads, especially in hot and windy conditions. A 2018 United States Department of Agriculture study under warm and dry conditions documented that unintended ignitions were positively related to the aluminum concentration, expressed as a percentage of the ammonium nitrate mass. Shooting at rocks, signs, metal, or other unsuitable objects can create sparks and ignite wildfires. Even some types of ammunition, such as steel and copper, have a greater potential to ignite wildfires.
On a single weekend in May 2021, wildland firefighters from Division of Forestry & Fire Protection and BLM Alaska Fire Service suppressed two wildfires that were triggered by recreational shooting at shooting ranges in Fairbanks and Palmer. The 9.1-acre Chena Hot Springs Road Shooting Range Fire was reported to be spreading rapidly uphill behind the shooting range burning in the dry spring grasses that are typical in Alaska.
Shooting range patrons need to know about the dangers of these types of rounds and targets and the importance of fire prevention. If you’re out shooting, you should have fire prevention measures in place, such as fire extinguishers and water sources. By working together, we can prevent these types of human caused wildfires from occurring and protect our communities across Alaska.
As a reminder, burn permits are required from April 1 through August 31. You can pick up a burn permit online at https://dnr.alaska.gov/burn or pick them up at your local forestry office and at many local fire departments.
Read more about protection areas, fire management plans and wildfire in Alaska here: http://forestry.alaska.gov/fire/fireplans
Categories: AK Fire Info, Alaska DNR - Division of Forestry (DOF), Fire Prevention