Are Shooters To Blame for Western Wildfires?

Shooters have been blamed for starting a number of fires recently in tinder-dry western states, where conflagrations have erupted near shooting ranges. One, Arizona's Sunflower Fire, has been positively traced to irresponsible members of a bachelor party who fired an incendiary shotgun shell into the underbrush:

The Sunflower Fire -- which has burned nearly 18,000 acres of the Tonto National Forest and is not fully contained -- began in mid-May after five Arizona men gathered to celebrate the upcoming May 19 nuptials of Bryan Reeder. The group -- all in their mid-20s -- traveled from Mesa to the Sycamore Creek area for a weekend “campout and bachelor party,” according to court records.

On Saturday, May 12, the quintet awoke and “began to target shoot in an area close to their camp,” a United States Forest Service agent reported in a sworn affidavit. About two hours into the target shooting, Craig Shiflet ... loaded an “incendiary shotgun shell” into his Remington 12 gauge and fired the round.

Tyler Pace, another bachelor party attendee, told investigators that after Shiflet fired the round, he “noticed smoke in the brush just behind” where the round landed in vegetation. Pace said the entire group “ran over to where the smoke was and noticed fire, which they unsuccessfully attempted to stomp out.”

Shiflet called 911 to report the blaze, but by then it was too late. He now faces charges for triggering the blaze.

The Salt Lake Tribune claims that 20 wildfires have been triggered by irresponsible shooters in Utah, including the Saratoga Springs Fire and the Dump Fire, but provides no support for the claim. A New York Times report cites the same figure, crediting the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as its source.

The BLM web site on Utah's fires does not provide the specificity of the triggers of manmade fires, but records 393 so far this year in the state burning more than 99,000 acres. If these statistics are true, shooters have accounted for just 5% of the fires in the state, making them an odd scapegoat for what appears to be a low-level push by media outlets to restrict shooting on public lands.

What are the facts behind these claims?

Even in dry conditions, the risk of triggering fires by shooting with normal lead or jacketed lead bullets is low. Lead and the soft metals used to "jacket" (encase) bullets are not metals that will spark when they hit earth or brush.