Exploding targets preliminary cause of two new wildfires

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ENTIAT, Wash. — Two new wildfires on Sunday may have been caused by exploding targets that, instead of just blowing up, sparked a fire that quickly spread across the landscape, fire officials say.

A fire in the Mud Creek area near Entiat grew to 10 acres in 10 minutes, and to 120 acres in just over an hour, said Wenatchee Complex fire spokesman Mick Mueller. Another one-quarter-acre fire on Deadman Hill at 3:30 p.m. near Cashmere was quickly contained.

In the first fire, a father and son were shooting at exploding targets on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest at about 12:30 p.m., apparently igniting the fire, said John Wisemore, chief of administration for the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office.

He said the Forest Service is investigating.

“Whether it’s legal or not is one thing,” he said, adding, “It wasn’t very smart because of the dry conditions.”

Mueller said the Entiat blaze drew 60 firefighters, a helicopter and three engines from the St. Mary’s Mission Road Fire in Omak before it was brought under control.

“We could have had another large fire,” he said, adding, “As we demobilize folks who have been here a long time fighting fires, we won’t have the local resources for new initial attack.”

Using exploding targets is not legal during a burn ban, according to Brian Flint, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources.

But Kelsey Hilderbrand, owner of High Mountain Hunting Supply in Wenatchee, said exploding targets usually do not create fires because they have no residual heat. “It’s a gas compression fire, not a flame, land mine, Napalm fire,” he said.

He said he has sold the Tannerite targets at his store for the last four years, and they are extremely popular.

Shooting into rocks is more likely to create a spark that could ignite a wildfire, he added.

Tannerite’s Website also said when mixed and use correctly, the targets do not initiate a fire.

“However, because of patent infringers making targets with incendiary additives, the USFS has declared that all exploding rifle targets are forbidden on federal land when a Special Fire Order is in place,” the notice says.

Mueller said the cause of the fire is still preliminary, but noted that in other cases, people who have not followed rules of a burn ban have been liable for the suppression costs, loss of timber and regeneration costs.

“Gosh, folks, it’s still dry out there. Nothing’s changed. We’ve had no precipitation. The only thing that’s different is we have a shorter burn period — less daylight,” he said.

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