PORTLAND — The U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday banned exploding targets on all national forests in Washington and Oregon, blaming them on at least five wildfires which burned over 15,000 acres in the region since last year.
Forest Service officials said they caused at least two fires on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest last year: The Goat Fire near Pateros burned about 7,000 acres from Sept. 15 to Nov. 9; and a 120-acre fire in the Mud Creek area near Entiat, which grew to 10 acres in 10 minutes, and to 95 acres in just over an hour last October.
Those fires were started by people using exploding targets in tinder-dry conditions, as the Wenatchee Valley sat under a haze of smoke, and dozens of other wildfires were burning out of control in North Central Washington.
The targets are already banned on state lands.
It is now also illegal to possess, discharge or use the targets on national forests, and those who do so can face up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine. The ban expires on June 20, 2015, unless it’s rescinded sooner, or made permanent.
A similar ban is in national forests in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, said Forest Service spokeswoman Sarah Levy.
She said the assessment over whether the ban will be permanent will likely be made on a national level. “These assessments are being made all over the country, so I don’t think our region will be making that decision,” she said.
An exploding target is a device that includes two or more separate chemicals that, when mixed, becomes explosive. When the target is struck by a bullet, it explodes, causing a loud boom and a smoke-like cloud that can be seen from far away.
Used for target practice, exploding targets have become increasingly popular, and are available online and at local sporting goods stores.
There’s also a growing debate about their use, not only due to the potential to start fires, but also for safety reasons.
Some manufacturers insist that the devices don’t ignite fires because they do not rely on a heat-related explosion.
But the Forest Service disagrees.
In February, after the Forest Service determined the Goat Fire was caused by exploding targets, agency officials said the issue of exploding targets was relatively new, and nothing in their rules specifically addressed their use. However, like leaving a campfire unattended or riding a motorcycle through dry grass without a spark arrestor, the use could be considered negligent, the agency said.
The new order does specifically address the targets, and their use on national forests.
“Exploding targets are an increasing concern on National Forests in this region due to their potential to harm the public and for the high temperatures — and often flames — generated when they explode,” the Forest Service Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Loudermilk said in a news release.
Levy said the agency recognizes that hunting and safe target shooting are valid uses of national forsts. “But there is a strong need to do this for public safety and fire reasons.”