Updated: August 6, 2013 at 11:11 am
The U.S. Forest Service is banning exploding targets, which catch on fire when hit by a bullet, from all national forest lands in Colorado, according to news release from the U.S. Attorney's office in Denver.
Exploding targets are packed with tannerite, a powder that ignites instantly, creating a firework-style explosion of embers and flame. The targets have caused at least 16 fires in the Rocky Mountain west, said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Colorado. Three Colorado fires, the Springer fire, the Galuchie Fire, and the 343 fire - all in 2012 - were ignited by exploding targets. The Springer fire was ignited by bullets in Park County; the Galuchie fire, in the Arapahoe Roosevelt National Forest, was caused by an exploding target.
The forest service estimates that taxpayers have spent more than $33 million on fire suppression efforts for the 16 fires. Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota have joined Colorado in banned the targets, according to the U.S. Attorney's office of Colorado. The Bureau of Land Management is working on a similar ban order, as well. The Arapahoe forest banned exploding targets in 2009, and now limits target shooting to cardboard, paper, manufactured metal or clay targets.
The tannerite explosives have a reputation for starting fires, said Mel Bernstein, owner of Dragonmans shooting range. Bernstein used to sell the targets but stopped after their explosions caught the surrounding grass on fire. The targets come in all sizes - some as large as a silhouette others as small as a fist - and have two layers inside of paper and some powder. Once a bullet hits the target, it explodes, and the entire target combusts. That's the dangerous part, Bernstein said.
"I used to sell them but then it puts the grass on fire," he said.
For those who want to use the targets and don't want to pay to use a shooting range - or pay for an expensive membership to one - the mountains are often the best option for target use, Bernstein said. While bullets have been known to cause fires in the Pikes Peak region, Bernstein thinks the exploding targets are far more of a hazard.
The ban, he said, is long overdue.
"They should have done it 25 years ago," he said. "Because that's what helps start fires."
Anyone caught using an exploding target could face a fine of up to $5,000 or imprisonment for up to six months.