Wildfires Caused by Firearms Use

This work provides the first accounting of shooting-related wildfires in the U.S. based on empirical data. A newly approved fire-cause data standard should allow for better tracking into the future.

While not historically tracked for statistical purposes, wildfires started by firearms use are increasingly reported by media and fire authorities in the US. The possibility that civilian firearms use and commercial ammunition could be a significant source of wildfire ignitions had been debated until research revealed some physical mechanisms for ignition by black powder or muzzle loading rifles, conventional rifle bullets, and exploding targets. Recognizing its emergence as a cause of concern, the US National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) updated the fire-cause data standard in 2020 to include ‘firearms and explosives use’ as a general cause under the broader human-source classification. We used data mapped over to the new NWCG standard to summarize firearms-related wildfire activity from agency records spanning 1992–2018. Ninety-two percent of the fires in the fifth-edition FPA FOD have a human or natural cause attributed, with 84% reported as human-caused. Of the human-caused fires that could be assigned a General Cause from the source information, only 0.2% (2226) were placed in the new firearms and explosives use category. Of the 2226 fires assigned a General Cause of firearms and explosives use, half were given a Specific Cause of military ordnance, while 40% were attributed to target shooting (787 or 35% from shooting at inert targets; 102 or 5% from exploding targets). Without the option of firearms and explosives use as a General Cause, fires started by target shooting, for example, traditionally had causes most often labeled as arson/incendiarism, equipment use, or miscellaneous/other. Because the specific cause detail required to identify shooting-related fires in the historical reports is rare, any assessments – including ours – necessarily underestimate actual occurrence. Compared to all other sources, wildfires caused by firearms use are relatively rare but can inflict significant damage during periods of high fire danger.

Related projects:

U.S. Wildfires 
Rifle Bullet Ignitions 
Wildfire Ignition Exploding Targets


Most public lands are subject to seasonal closure for all target shooting when conditions become very dry. Photo credit: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

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Short, Karen C.; Finney, Mark A. 2022. Agency records of wildfires caused by firearms use in the United States. Fire Safety Journal. 131: 103622.