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Can a bullet start a fire?

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by Trey Veston, Jul 28, 2021.

  1. T_Walker

    T_Walker Member

    May 16, 2020
    I know of at least one local wildfire started by people shooting in dry vegetation. Can't say for sure what ammo they used. Green tips will spark on steel and some rocks; tracers are a definite YES!
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2021
  2. GNP

    GNP Member

    Apr 13, 2021
    Basura Blanca likes this.
  3. Rubone

    Rubone Member

    Jul 12, 2020
    Beautiful Northern New Mexico
    In Colorado a couple years back...
    "The Lake Christine Fire broke out when people illegally shot incendiary ammunition at the Basalt shooting range on July 3, 2018. The fire threatened Basalt and El Jebel at different times. It destroyed three homes and forced the evacuation of hundreds more. It eventually swept over 12,500 acres and cost $40 million to extinguish. It remains etched in the minds of many midvalley residents."
  4. tws3b2

    tws3b2 Member

    Jul 21, 2019
    Asheboro NC
    Anything is possible, But more are not likely.
  5. plainsdrifter

    plainsdrifter Member

    Jun 3, 2021
    It happened twice hear on forest service land. Location back stop had lots of rocks and vegetation. Luckily not large fires. So they shut it down. Really horrible location and the dummies should have known better.
  6. Ignition Override

    Ignition Override Member

    Sep 15, 2007
    The Mid-South.
    Emphasis - this Will Be On The Test:

    The only ammo I ever used (and was the only shooter) before the roughly two acres of former pasture burned up (extinguished by rural fire dept.), was >> Not incendiary, or tracer of any type at all. << ;)

    It was a normal copper-jacketed bullet :scrutiny:. The spark (s) was caused by hitting the steel target frame which was in high, extremely dry grass/weeds (sun & no rain in maybe 2 weeks or more), from about 300-330 yards. Period.

    It wasn't "out west", but in rural nw MS, just south of Memphis.

    Please do not confuse what this Normal bullet did with the Other chat about "tracer this", "incendiary that.".......the landowner certainly knew about the possibility, but was very complacent that week and knew that we were going to shoot.
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2021
    Slamfire and plainsdrifter like this.
  7. John Joseph

    John Joseph Member

    May 5, 2016
    Yes, that's why steel jacket milsurp ammo like GP-11 isn't allowed at our local range---sparks caused fires.
    Bfh_auto likes this.
  8. herrwalther

    herrwalther Member

    May 1, 2013
    Most of my enlistment was spent as either an assistant gunner to a M240B or as a SAW gunner. A true morale killer is being on a range dry enough to ban tracer ammo but not all ammo. And you (the lower enlisted) break belt links to take out tracer rounds and put them back together before firing. As I understand it, ammo can come in all ball links. I just rarely saw it.
    Bfh_auto and Slamfire like this.
  9. Slamfire

    Slamfire Member

    Dec 29, 2006
    Thank you, I learned something. :thumbup:

    Don't shoot on your land in a drought, shoot on someone else's patch. o_O LOL.

    I had no idea that copper jacketed bullets would create sparks on a steel target. :uhoh:
    .308 Norma likes this.
  10. J-Bar

    J-Bar Member

    Nov 24, 2010
    Springfield, MO

    brad fire copy.jpg
    Tommygunn likes this.
  11. Bfh_auto

    Bfh_auto Member

    Feb 23, 2016
    I caught pine needles on fire while shooting an old fuel oil barrel with 17hmr.
    We were shooting it with my 17 and my friends 22. The 17 was punching through dropping got fragments in the pine needles. It went up in flames. Thankfully I was on the fire department and had my gear with me.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2021
  12. Swampman

    Swampman Old Fart

    Oct 15, 2011
    East Texas
    Keep in mind that steel jacketed ammo is "normal" these days, and not just the cheap Russian steel case stuff.

    A lot of it's copper washed steel bullets in brass cases, and unless you try it with a magnet you'll never even know it's steel.
    kcofohio, AK Hunter and Bfh_auto like this.
  13. theotherwaldo

    theotherwaldo Member

    Mar 30, 2008
    In the Wild Horse Desert of Texas
    When I was a kid I used to shoot the chunks of quartz in a cut bank with my BB gun, just to watch the sparks.
    It's the same principle as the igniters on gas stoves... .
    .308 Norma likes this.
  14. Tirod

    Tirod Member

    May 24, 2008
    SW MO
    I've seen three range fires and two caused a cease fire. We were immediately put to the task of putting it out, which took over 45 minutes beginning to end. Just us in uniform stomping with our boots. Fun times.

    What I have discovered is that out west, when in fire season (now) most of the events are either "campers" or deliberate arson. Lightning on occasion and blaming the utilities now and again, but the forensics shown on camera are often suspect.

    Nobody much ever blames gun owners mag dumping their AR's causing millions of dollars in damage. Yet, posters in this forum will state categorically that is exactly how they are used in hunting season. But, nobody had to evacuate the area as a result. All those dead dry leaves and trees, yet never a fire.

    Makes you think.
    herrwalther likes this.
  15. AK Hunter

    AK Hunter Member

    Jul 28, 2020
    If you go to the Knob Creek machine gun shoot you can watch it happen. They shoot a lot of tracers & set old boats & wooden spools on fire.
  16. Trey Veston

    Trey Veston Member

    May 30, 2017
    Not in Idaho. Most fires down around Boise where are the Californians have moved, there are a larger number of human caused fires. But up in my area, nearly every large fire currently burning was caused by lighting storms a couple of weeks ago. And today, it is going to hit 100 degrees. Saturday, it will hit 102 degrees. Sunday, we get more thunderstorms with little rain, so will have dozens more fires started.


    Screenshot 2021-07-30 7.47.12 AM.png
    .308 Norma and theotherwaldo like this.
  17. Ranger Rog

    Ranger Rog Member

    Mar 11, 2008
    Old movie called "deadly weapons" there's a few YouTube blurbs of some scenes, worth getting if you can find it, Annite Productions? Whole segment on shooting gas tanks, cans etc.......his go to fire starter was WWI oil filled anti tank round! Tank blew beautifully! The film dispels many myths about bullet tumble and other misconceptions, highly recommended.....I've won many bets on the proven facts.......
  18. mnrivrat

    mnrivrat Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    A remote possibility would be if the lead bullet drove two object (rocks) together causing a spark from their collision.
    My brother lives in AZ north of Kingman. Locals there use an area on BLM land to shoot. There is no shooting on BLM land now however, and he spends time putting out food and water for local wildlife . Here in southern Minnesota our air quality is poor from the western fires and there is an air quality warning in effect. We have needed rain here as well and our crops have suffered as a result.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2021
    Slamfire likes this.
  19. 230RN
    • Contributing Member

    230RN I wish these woke folks would awaken to reality.

    May 27, 2006
    Slamfire said,

    "I don't see how lead bullets could cause a fire, impacting on the ground. But, steel core, or steel jacketed, possibly, maybe. Darn sure tracer will."

    It mostly depends on velocity. A chocolate pudding meteor moving at 40,000 km per second hitting the moon will create a lot of heat and light --even if the moon itself were also made of chocolate pudding. If the moon were flammable, it would start to burn. :)

    The resulting temperature depends on the contact speed (energy depends on the square of velocity) and how fast that energy is dissipated.

    I myself have seen faint flashes on hitting rocks with a .243 at dusk --not 100% repeatable, but often enough to call it confirmed.

    Look at it this way for that .243 hitting a rock. You've got, say, 2000 foot-pounds of energy being dissipated against that rock in what, one microsecond? One millisecond? That's a lot of power (in the technical sense) and there's no wonder things got hot.

    After all, many Watts means many hots.

    Terry, 230RN
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2021
  20. Palladan44

    Palladan44 Member

    Nov 7, 2020
    At an indoor range, they used to push piles of empty brass into a pile in the middle of the floor about 10 yds down range, then probably once per week shoveled them up.....
    I watched the pile of brass burst into flames once. It burned like it was soaked with a quart of lighter fluid. Carbon dust, unburnt powder, etc allowed it to ignite. Have no idea how it lit up. But just out of nowhere....poof!
  21. Riomouse911

    Riomouse911 Member

    Jun 5, 2013
    I wasn’t there for either;

    One friend claimed to have been shooting his 460 S&W prone using a bipod and said he started a small grass fire from muzzle blast/ejecta. This he said he stomped out before it got away.

    Another friend did start a small fire shooting his AK with steel jacketed Russian rounds. Several other buddies were there and used a fire extinguisher and cooler meltwater to put that one out.

    Best to not shoot in dry brush or grassy areas. :thumbup:

    Stay safe.
  22. 230RN
    • Contributing Member

    230RN I wish these woke folks would awaken to reality.

    May 27, 2006
    Just screwing around with the numbers on the light flashes from a .243 hitting a rock, I get

    .243 bullet hits a rock
    2000 ft lbs energy
    .001 second (one millisecond impact duration assumed)

    Power = a function of energy dissipated over time

    Equals 2000 ÷ 0.001 = 2,000,000 foot pounds per second of power.

    Since one horsepower is 550 foot-pounds per second, this is 3636 horsepower or over 2700 kiloWatts

    All in a .243 inch diameter spot.

    Now a lot of that power would be expended in mechanically breaking up the rock around that spot and disrupting the bullet, but still...

    ...occasional flashes at dusk.

    Stop me before I do any more calc'latin'.

    Terry, 230RN
    gyp_c2 and CapnMac like this.
  23. Basura Blanca

    Basura Blanca Member

    Jul 14, 2004
    Great info.
    Here's a snippet for anyone scared off by a 36 page document:

    "Our study focused on laboratory testing of different bullets loaded in commercial ammunition. We observed that bullet material did affect fragment sizes and ignitions, with steel components and solid copper bullets producing the largest fragments and the most likely ignitions in peat. Despite similar maximum temperatures recorded on thermal images, larger fragments from solid copper bullets seem to be the most plausible explanation for the slower rates of temperature decline compared to steel seen in the image sequences (Figure 21). The opposite trend would be expected based only on the greater thermal conductivity of copper than steel, meaning that heat loss rates should be greater for equivalent fragment mass."

    It also makes sense that the flammable materials matter. For instance (and this is purely anecdotal), there was a shabby little range near me in San Diego county that had a big hill beyond the berm backstop. Whenever I'd go, it seemed to always be charred in new places and the people who ran the place (it was a campground too) said that it wasn't uncommon to have to bring in their dozer to knock down little fires. But then again, this an area with lot's of dry chapparal in the hotter months and it's prone to burn. I imagine in wetter areas, with different plants, it's another story.
  24. Lo-Profile

    Lo-Profile Member

    Sep 27, 2020
    Sparks, NV
    I've seen it happen in the military during qualifications. Stop the shooting, everybody goes out with e-tools until the fire is out.

    Have been a fire or two that were supposedly started by shooters here in northern Nevada in the past.
    We always carry water and shovels with us when out shooting.
  25. jmorris

    jmorris Member

    Sep 30, 2005
    If the magnifying properties of a water droplet and the sun can cause a fire, a round and the energy/heat it can produce could too.

    I know for sure API can. :) Or :( depending on the circumstances.
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