Sam Fidler wrote:Generating sparks is not synonymous with getting a fire to start.
Bear in mind, that goes both directions. While a spark may not start a fire, it may also be possible to start a fire without a spark being present. I note that the recent fire in Herriman is being reported as having been started by a driver who pulled his car off the road and thus had the muffler and/or catalytic converter in contact with some dry grass.
Spark or not, we all know that when an object travels at some 3700 fps (the fast side of a .223) which is a little over 2500 mph slows to 0 fps in something approaching 0 seconds, all of that kinetic energy has to be converted to some other form of energy. Some is converted to sound, some certainly goes to deforming the round and impacted target. But some of it has to go to heat. 1200 foot pounds of energy is equal to just over 1.5 BTU. A typical kitchen match generates about 1 BTU of energy and we all know that is way more than is needed to start wildfire. (For reasons none of us understand, it often seems to take 1000 times that to actually start a campfire when we want to start a fire.
But starting an unwanted wildfire seems to be much easier than starting a desired camp fire.)
That all said, from my own personal experience, plus "Mythbuster"-type video of how tough it is to ignite car's fuel tank with bullets, I have a hard time believing that actual shooting of non-tracer rounds is going to start a fire in most cases. I suspect that exploding targets, tracer rounds, cigs butts, or even catalytic converters and mufflers are far higher risk than a regular bullet striking the typical earthen backstop. But the simple numbers above tell me that it is feasible. Heck, we once had a fire start in a bathroom from a magnifying makeup mirror reflecting the southern Utah sun onto a bath towel. Fortunately my mother found it just as the smoking towel burst into flames and was able to toss it into the shower to extinguish. It was a freak collision of the sun angle through the window and the magnifying mirror reflecting and concentrating the light onto a towel. In some 20 years in the home, it happened once. One day out of 7,000 days in the home. But even with 1-in-10,000 or 1-in-1,000,000 odds, sometimes the turn comes up.
If 2,000 people are out shooting Statewide on any given weekend, and they shoot an average of 500 rounds each that is a million rounds down range each weekend. That is some 50 million rounds a year. So even if a bullet starts a fire only 1 time in 10 million (taking into account the need for just the wrong conditions) that is some 5 fires a year (in a year when conditions are conducive to such problems). I admit right now these numbers come out of my arm pit and could by off by huge amounts. But as a first WAG, they strongly suggest to me that while rare, it does look to be feasible
for a small number of fires to be started by regular bullets fired in makeshift ranges when environmental conditions are just right (or wrong as the case may be).
None of this says we should be banning shooting on public lands generally. However, in a year when both federal and State land managers are considering a complete ban on all human activities and even public access in certain areas, banning shooting in some specific areas may not be unreasonable. My preference, would be to instead see a requirement for certain safety precautions. Just as boaters are required to have certain equipment (life jacket per person, paddles, bail bucket, etc) and as those who build camp fires are required to observe certain safety measures (fire ring, clear ground for a certain distance, etc), it might make sense to require that those shooting on public lands have a fire extinguisher and shovel present, that they clear the impact area of flammables, etc.
But one way or another, I think it would be poor strategy to deny all possibility of shooting directly causing fires. We need to point out how rare it is (both in terms of number of rounds shot by number of shooters, but also in relation to total number of wildfires). We need to make sure that any government response is both legal and proper. But we also need to be actively engaged in educating other shooters, practicing fire safety ourselves, and maybe even considering whether some limited restrictions on shooting are not maybe necessary.