US Forest Service study links rifle ammunition to wildfires

Study proves steel and copper bullets ignite fires

DENVER - A study by the U.S. Forest Service has concluded rifle ammunition may be to blame for wildfires across the west.

The Forest Service commissioned a research team based in Montana to investigate the link between fires and rifle ammunition, after several reports cited Utah wildfires caused by bullets during 2012.

The study started last year with the first test run in September. Scientists tested 16 different bullets composed of steel, copper and lead, totaling 469 rounds fired.

"We designed an apparatus that consisted of a steel deflector plate and a box at the bottom called a 'collector box' that we could fill with various materials that could be tested for ignition," said research forester Mark Finney.

They found once certain bullets fragmented, they would ignite the moss in the collector box.

"The bullet by itself isn’t very hot until it strikes something very solid," Finney said. "The process of deforming it….is what heats it up."

Finney said this test is the first to provide proof rifle ammunition could be the cause of fires. So far, the team has only tested bullets in a controlled environment, which emulated dry conditions. 

7NEWS Reporter Lindsey Sablan asked Finney if the research being done may one day have an affect on shooters on federal land. Finney said he was not responsible for policy change but said "I would hope people would just consider ignitions from target shootings as one possibility to watch out for."

In June of this summer, the Bureau of Land Management in Utah banned "steel-core or steel-jacketed bullets" along with exploding targets and tracer bullets. Colorado BLM Director of Communications Steven Hall said they "certainly took a look at it." He went on to say they chose not to impose an outright ban this summer because, "we have different situation and conditions in Colorado."

7NEWS contacted the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service to see if they've discussed policy change in light of the research. As of this publishing, they had not responded.

--For the entire published report, click here: http://ch7ne.ws/1eeCxVm

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