Ready, aim, wildfire
On Feb. 1, the 69-acre Poeville wildfire was sparked in the Peavine foothills. A wildfire. In February. And with the worryingly early return of fire season comes the resurgence one of the stupidest and most dangerous opinions held by locals: Target shooting doesn’t spark wildfires.
This is patently untrue. Shooting can and does cause wildfires every single year in Nevada, and yet with every new report comes a chorus of online commentators decrying the “liberal media's anti-gun agenda,” clamoring for the “science” of how a hot piece of metal could possibly cause a fire, or demanding a new shooting range so public land isn't put at risk. (We agree with that last one.)
“Yet more anti-gun drivel. Someone got their Bloomberg check this week,” wrote a commentor on the Reno Gazette Journal's Facebook post of the Peavine fire.
The naysayers seem to fall into three camps. Number one: “It's scientifically impossible for a lead-core cartridge to cause a fire because it's ignition point is too low.” A 2013 study by the U.S. Forest Service found that, while steel-core rounds led to higher instances of ignition, even softer lead fragments can smolder after striking resistant targets—sometimes taking several minutes before igniting dry vegetation. (The entire report can be read here: www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs/rmrs_rp104.pdf)
Number two: “I've been shooting for years, and I've never seen a fire started.” Other members of the “I never thought it would happen to me” club probably include people like Alex Javier and Jorge Arias, target shooters who were arrested on charges of negligence for starting last year's Jasper Fire—which burned 800 acres.
And finally: “These guys weren't following the rules.” Fair enough. Not every stray round or desert rock will start a fire, and following the Bureau of Land Managment's proper shooting safety protocols can keep everyone safe.
Local target shooters have spoken about the need for a second, more accessible public shooting range to cut down on back country shooting, which makes sense. However, the risk is never zero. The devastating Lamoille Canyon fire of 2018—9,000 acres burned—was started at just such an outdoor range.
“It is the opinion of this investigator that this fire was most likely started by someone shooting at a rock that was approximately 500 meters from the shooting tables at the Spring Creek rifle range,” wrote Nevada Fire Marshal investigator John Boykin in the aftermath of the fire.
This January was the hottest January ever recorded, and our mild winter is sure to give way to a dry, scorching summer in a few months. For the valley's recreational shooters, being a “responsible gun owner” should start with acknowledging the risks that come with shooting—including wildfire danger.