SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - In the past couple of weeks several fires in Utah have been started by people out target shooting. And the fire above Centerville Monday night is a good example.
The Centerville fire started near 1600 North just above the Rolling Hills neighborhood of Centerville. The forest service says that people target shooting sparked the blaze that forced three families to evacuate their homes and caused a lot of concern for about two hours.
It is one of several fires started by ammunition sparks. Gun experts say the problem is two-fold. First, people are out shooting in the wilderness under very dry conditions. Second, a lot of them are using steel bullets that ricochet off rocks and cause sparks in the dry grass and shrubs.
ABC 4 News caught up with some Boy Scouts earning a gun related merit badge Tuesday night. They were firing pistols and rifles at the Lions Club Shooting Range in Bountiful. And when we asked they knew the difference between a lead and a steel bullet. Jens Fillmore said "The lead bullet is a softer metal so it will compact once the bullet hits its mark." Jordan Hawks said that steel bullets are problematic because they act "like flint." Jonah Anderson told us the scouts study things like that before they even make it out to the range.
And lead bullets are the only type you can use at the Lions Club Range and other area ranges during the summer months. Assistant Range Master Chuck Cunningham says steel bullets are fire starters this time of year. "Steel core bullets will ricochet off the rocks and creates a spark. That's what ignites the vegetation." In fact, when you bring your ammo up here - if it's questionable - Cunningham says it has to undergo the club's magnet test. "If the magnet adheres to the bullet, you can't shoot it here. If it drops off you're ok.
Cunningham says restricting metal bullets in the summer, of course, isn't the only safety precaution in place. The range cleans out the rocks and brush so it is much harder for a fire to get started no matter what ammo a shooter uses.
Still, Cunningham says fires like the one on Monday in Centerville started by target shooters should never happen if people would just use safe ammunition. And he says seeing fires sparked by shooters so close to his range seems completely avoidable. "That's why we have a controlled shooting environment here in Bountiful. We control our shooters. That (referring to target shooters in the wilderness) we have no control over."
Officials in Utah are trying to asking us to spread the word to stop shooting in the wilderness during the hot, dry summer months. And because of other fires officials say on Friday campfires will be prohibited across the state except in designated and developed camping areas.