Two new wildfires on Sunday may have been caused by exploding targets that, instead of just blowing up, sparked fires 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 95 acres in just over an hour, said Wenatchee Complex fire spokesman Mick Mueller. Jim Duck, dispatch coordinator for the Central Washington Interagency Communications Center, said the Entiat blaze pulled firefighters, a helicopter, bulldozers and engines from three other wildfires burning in the region, and those resources were able to contain it Sunday.
Another 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 their investigation was turned over to the Forest Service law enforcement, since the fire started on the national forest.
“Whether it’s legal or not is one thing,” Wisemore said, adding, “It wasn’t very smart because of the dry conditions.”
Rick Acosta, spokesman for the Wenatchee Complex, said officials have identified the target shooters responsible for both fires, and they are different parties. He said the Forest Service is still investigating, and the agency has not determined whether there will be charges or attempts to recover costs of fire suppression.
Mueller said it’s fortunate the large interagency fire teams are in the area. “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.
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. Shooting into rocks is more likely to create a spark that could ignite a wildfire, he added.
Hilderbrand said he has sold the Tannerite exploding targets at his store for the last four years, and they are extremely popular.
Tannerite’s website 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 website 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.
“The message is, ‘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.
Despite cooler weather, the fire danger is still high, especially for October, fire officials say. And rain that was initially forecast for Friday may not materialize, Mueller said.