Ammunition caused fires


Does anyone know of any scientific studies on fires started by shooting small arms ammunition?

I am mainly interested in commonly available civilian types of ammunition, not exotic military tracer or incendiary rounds.

Several wildfires in Utah have been blamed by federall bureaucrats on “shooters” alleging that bullets containing steel cores or jackets are creating sparks when hitting rocky soil and setting brush on fire. That fits neatly with their agenda to prohibit shooting in hundreds of square miles of BLM or Forest Service land, but ignores other likely causes- smokers, fireworks, campfires, sparks/hot muflers on motorcycles or ATVs, lightning, etc.

Although there may be a theoretical possiblity of sparks from ferrous bullet components striking rocks, there is also the possibility of muzzle flash (assuming the shooter is down in the weeds) or perhaps burning powder grains or patches from a muzzle loaders, but all those seem extremely unlikely, although not entirely theoretically impossible.

Any scientific evidence would be greatly appreciated.

Great “Mythbusters” topic…


During my volunteer time at the local shooting range, I only experienced 2 small fires.

The first was caused by a black powder shooter who accidentally ignited some gun powder build up.

The second one was caused by a round fired from a hunting rifle. It set some cushioning at the end of the range on fire. I believe it was a 338 Laupa round. We use a sand filled bullet trap that is held in place by a concrete step. This step is protected with some heavy duty wooden (former railroad) beams and rubber padding. IIRC a paper sheet with the range number on it caught fire. That A4 sheet was attached to the rubber padding.

For normal target practice we use an automated transport system with cardboard boards to which the small training targets are attached. None of them, ever, during the last 10 years, caught fire.


About 10 years ago a problem with shot-out 300 meter butts on our local range was temporarily solved by stuffing some bales of hay into the openings made in the sand. It was the intention to stop bullet fragments from flying out of the butts and over on the pistol range to the side of the butts. After having visits from the fire department two times over the weekend, haybales was strictly forbidden in the butts (but still allowed at close range and if water was available.)
Bullets fired into the bales was ordinary HPBT match bullets -Norma etc- but the bales were very dry, the temp was around 25-28 C the whole weekend and maybe 1500-1800 shots were fired into each bale every day.


The big fire risk comes from muzzle loaders and their ejecta, smouldering patches and paper. I have some pictures which I will try to post of us setting fire to the grass at bisley not once but twice in a single day… no harm done, we beat the flames out, but large areas of Bisley were destroyed last year by a raging grass fire which went out of control.

Google “Bisley on fire” images and you will see the pictures


Several years ago I witnessed a fire start at our local range in the forest on the hill above and just behind the 100 yard berm. It was fall and the leaves had fallen and were dry. It was in those leaves the fire started. It was in the area where there was a target that someone was shooting an Egyptian Hakim (7.92x57) rifle at. We other shooters made safe our rifles then grabbed shovels, etc., to fight the fire. The Hakim shooters just left. Can’t say what type of ammo they were shooting. Can’t say for sure they started it. But there was a fire, I helped put it out.


The stories have shown that it is possible to start fires by shooting firearms but what really needs to be looked at are the statistics about the causes of wildfires in the area (and across the US or other countries). I am sure the figures would not even rate firearms as a cause - it would probably just be included in the “other causes” section as the percentage would be well below 1%. These figures are kept by land management/firefighting agencies the world over.
The other aspect would be the time of year in which it is possible for fires to start and spread. A year round ban on hunting would not be needed as for part of the year fires are not going to start or spread due to the weather and moisture of the fuel (leaf litter, scrub etc). There would only be certain conditions that would result in fires starting so any restriction could be further reduced to days above a certain “fire danger rating”.
This post is a bit off topic of ammo but may help in any battle to fight bans like these.


Think I found this link some time ago here in the Forum. … ighter.cfm



The video is good on what happens to ammo in a fire, but is separate from my question which is about how ammunition might initiate a fire.

Unfortunately, the data keepers around here are on a crusade to ban shooting activities in huge areas, and are inclined to put unexplained fires down as “shooting caused” so we really need some scientific evidence that it is or is not a significant factor.

The alleged scenario is usually alleged to be shooting steel jacketed or steel core ammunition at non-range areas in the desert on on mountain sides. Scattered sparse brush in the area (often cheat grass or mesquite) and lots of exposed rocks. Usually low humidity (15-20% or less) and sometimes with some light to moderate winds.

Unfortunately at least one idiot was shooting at a “Tannerite” target which is a binary device that will explose into a fireball when hit. Now, THAT will start a fire! Send him the bill for the firefighting efforts-- which can get very expensive by the time you get several ground teams and some aerial drops invovled from helicopters or fixed wing tankers.

Keep looking and if anyone finds anything, please let me know. If they do institute a ban, we need to keep it as narrow as possible on ammo types.



Well, as a MG shooter in AZ, I can tell you that fires can and do get started by steel jacket/core ball ammunition. A large pile of granite as a target and some dry grass and low humidity are all that is needed. Shooting in low light at granite with certain steel-core ball produces an amazing display and most who watch can not believe MORE fires are not started this way. Most ranges now check ammo with magnets in states like CA just because of the liability of a fire starting at the range and spreading. So to answer your question, in my opinion the chance is small, but real that a ball projectile strike on the right target, under the right conditions, can indeed cause a fire. Seen many occurrences of it personally. JH


John, I think the FS has some data on this. A few yrs back we had a severe draught status here and they closed the ranges on the Francis Marion NF siteing possible dangers of firearms at the range starting fires in tenderbox conditions. How you would get it, I know not.


I would have thought on ranges people shooting off all sorts of military surplus ammunition would give plenty of scope for mishap . Some of it no doubt poorly identified and of dubious provenance. Who knows whats really in those boxes.

I doubt if commercial ammunition poses any real threat.


Google “Steel bullet jackets, fire restrictions” Some BLM and general info on common shooting range restrictions will come up concerning fire danger with steel jacket/core projectiles under drought conditions. Not an uncommon occurrence.JH