U.S. Forest Service: Bullets Cause Forest Fires

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ABC in Denver, Colorado is reporting on a study by the U.S. Forest Service that apparently concludes that bullets cause forest fires. Needless to say, reports like this add fuel to the fire (pun intended) for those looking to outlaw hunting and further restrict Americans’ right to own firearms. The argument, or so it goes, is that hunting is “outdated” and “barbaric” and puts lives in danger. Add to that the idea that bullets cause wildfires, an especially incendiary claim so soon after nineteen firefighters lost their lives in Arizona. But there’s one problem: the study is a steaming pile of horse hockey . . .

From ABC:

“We designed an apparatus that consisted of a steel deflector plate and a box at the bottom called a ‘collector box’ that we could fill with various materials that could be tested for ignition,” said research forester Mark Finney.

They found once certain bullets fragmented, they would ignite the moss in the collector box.

“The bullet by itself isn’t very hot until it strikes something very solid,” Finney said. “The process of deforming it….is what heats it up.”

Anyone remember those fire starter kits from your Boy Scout days? The ones with the flint and steel? Striking one metal against the other caused sparks, which can in turn be used to light a campfire. It’s kinda the same principle here: the kinetic energy of the bullet flying downrange is instantaneously stopped by the steel plate and that energy needs to go somewhere. Some of the energy is translated into moving the steel plate, some becomes sound waves (making that “GONG” sound) and some is converted to heat.

The problem with this study is that people rarely have a solid steel plate as their backdrop when they’re shooting out in the woods. Most of the time the bullets smack into a tree or a dirt-covered hill. In both of those cases, the bullet slows down more gradually meaning less kinetic energy is translated into heat. That’s why the tree pictured above didn’t burst into flames when it was hit. The projectile didn’t produce enough energy over a short enough period of time to spark a fire.

The U.S. Forest Service seems to have ignored this little issue, instead opting to bounce rounds off of a steel plate and deflecting the fragments into a pile of dry tinder. Gee, it’s almost as if they were trying to start a fire. Considering that the overwhelming majority of shooters – let alone hunters – aren’t out in the woods shooting at steel targets, that renders the conclusion drawn by this report utterly useless. Not to mention inflammatory. And likely politically biased.

In summary, I call bullshit.