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John Hollenhorst Reporting A new assessment of wildfires last summer in Northwestern Utah shows a surprising cause for many of them – firearms.
Perhaps you remember the big blaze in September west of Utah Lake. It burned 554 acres before it was brought under control. It started in an area littered with thousands of shotgun shells and bullet casings, the leftovers from target shooters. And there's all sorts of trash, shot full of holes like a Swiss cheese.
Teresa Rigby, U.S. Bureau of Land Management: “People shoot at things that are metal or at rocks. That creates sparks.”
They also shoot holes in things labeled "flammable". And they take potshots at things like propane bottles.
Teresa Rigby: “I think they like to see things explode. That may be what it is.”
Or they use illegal tracer bullets or badly-loaded gunpowder that can set wild cheat-grass on fire.
Teresa Rigby: “It ignites easily and then it spreads quickly.”
Even veteran fire officials were surprised when they added it up. Target-shooters caused 25 percent of the wildfires this summer on BLM land in Northwestern Utah.
Teresa Rigby: “One-fourth of your fires, to come from one particular case is a red flag.”
Fortunately the fire conditions this past summer were not especially extreme, so they were able to get the fires under control quickly. Most of the fires were not in remote areas, they were on the desert fringes of population centers.
The worry is that a careless target-shooter will someday start a fire that can't be controlled quickly. Controlling those fires, mostly in Utah County and Tooele County, cost taxpayers about $400,000.
The BLM recommends target-shooters carry extra water and a fire extinguisher, and just be more careful in selecting ammunition and targets.