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Alarming rate of wildfires caused by exploding targets in Utah

Posted at 10:32 PM, Jun 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-18 10:06:22-04

In 2019, five wildfires across the entire state were caused by target shooters using explosives. This year, that number has already been surpassed.

“With restrictions in place, it impacts everybody, and we just want people to observe those restrictions, look at the laws to keep everybody safe,” said Jason Curry, spokesman and fire investigator for Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. Bureau of Land Management has issued fire prevention orders for the portions of the ‘west desert’ which includes lands managed by the BLM West Desert District.

So far in 2020, seven wildfires have been deemed caused by exploding targets, four within the last week in Utah.

“There are two alarming things about it, number one, most of the areas we’ve seen these fires happen it’s not even legal to use them, the other factor is that most of them, maybe half have taken place during red flag warning conditions,” said Curry. “In Tooele County, they are not lawful to discharge and that’s a misdemeanor offense. Bigger than that though it’s a cost of that wildfire, it’s probably going to be in the 100’s of thousands and individuals responsible for starting wildfires in Utah are held accountable for that.”

Most of the explosive-related fires this year have taken place in Utah County and Tooele County. Both areas don’t allow exploding targets.

“This is a binary explosive; a binary explosive means you mix two parts together and you’re actually mixing an explosive,” said Sgt. Peter Quittner, a bomb technician with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office for the last decade. “You’re actually mixing an explosive and you’re supposed to have a license for that.”

Quittner has seen, tested and researched the binary compounds that make up exploding targets. He, along with others who are exposed to them, know that the exploding targets are universally called ‘Tannerite’, which is a brand name rather than an actual term for the explosive.

“It’s detonating at a velocity of about sixteen to 18,000 feet per second,” said Sgt. Quittner about the strength of the explosives. “If you were able to slow that down, you’d see a big fireball come out, it’s a detonation and that thermal event can start brush on fire.”

Both Quittner and Curry echo the sentiment that exploding targets should be used carefully and in the right conditions, with the right understanding of the compounds.

“What there really isn’t much of is warning from the manufacturer’s about potential to start a fire,” said Curry. “I’ve used these I’ve set them up in green, damp conditions, shot them, they’re a lot of fun, so if you use them right, there’s nothing wrong with this.”

However, most of the explosives being used are being detonated in places where conditions are ripe for wildfire. So far in 2020, wildfires sparked by explosives have gone almost hand-in-hand with red flag warnings issued by the National Weather Service.

“Use a little common sense, understand what it is you’re doing,” said Sgt. Quittner.

Target shooters are encouraged to follow posted signage and regulations in order to safely comply with current fire prevention orders. To learn more: