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Earth United States Politics News

Fires Sparked By Utah Target Shooters Prompt Evacuations 709

Hugh Pickens writes "The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that more than 9,000 people have been driven from their homes by a wind-whipped wildfire started by two shooters at landfill popular with target shooters who won't face any charges because they were not breaking any laws. The fire was the 20th this year in Utah sparked by target shooting where low precipitation, dry heat and high winds have hit the West hard, exacerbating the risk that bullets may glance off rocks and create sparks. Despite the increasing problem, local agencies are stuck in a legal quandary — the state's zealous protection of gun rights leaves fire prevention to the discretion of individuals — a freedom that allows for the careless to shoot into dry hills and rocks. When bullets strike rock, heated fragments can break off and if the fragments make contact with dry grass, which can burn at 450 to 500 degrees, the right conditions can lead to wildfires. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has called on Utahns to use more "common sense" in target shooting urging target shooters to use established indoor and outdoor ranges instead of tinder-dry public lands. "We can do better than that as Utahns," says Herbert, calling on shooters to "self-regulate," since legislation bars sheriff's officials from regulating firearms. "A lot of the problem we have out here is a lack of common sense.""
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Fires Sparked By Utah Target Shooters Prompt Evacuations

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  • by kanweg ( 771128 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @08:30AM (#40428175)

    "A lot of the problem we have out here is a lack of common sense."

    As the saying goes: The problem with common sense is that it isn't very common.


    • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @09:09AM (#40428423)
      And this story is unfairly associating this lack of common sense with firearms, apparently for some political agenda. 20 fires have been associated with firearms activity. But, there have been 218 human caused wildfires [utahfireinfo.gov] so far this year in Utah, so that's less than 10%. The same, official Utah government website informs us of the "...three major preventable causes of fires in Utah. They are campfires, debris burning, and vehicle fires." [utahfireinfo.gov]
      • by jensend ( 71114 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:27AM (#40429023)

        You're counting a whole lot of zero-acre fires. If you look at the damage caused, target shooting accounts for a good deal more than 10%. Also, target shooters make up a rather small proportion of the population and cause a vastly disproportionate number of fires.

        Any target shooting outside of a gun range during a red flag warning shows a lack of common sense, and trying to excuse these people's rampant irresponsibility by saying other people sometimes act irresponsibly too shows you're the one with the political agenda.

      • by Mabhatter ( 126906 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:45AM (#40429185)

        But failure to put out a campfire, or a careless burning barrell, or throwing a lit cigarette on the ground CAN all be punished. And they ARE punished VERY severely in these states with wildfire problems.

        A civil suit would be the way to go. Take names at the incident and hand them over to the 9000 people that had to be evacuated. It was a group that caused the fire without safety measures in place.
        You just need a court that will allow the case.

        • by tmosley ( 996283 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @11:27AM (#40429501)
          Yes, those laws are ridiculous as well. These fires are caused by decades of idiotic policy that has built up enough dry tinder to roast the entire country. Instead of having small, controlled burns on a regular basis, we build and build and build, then blame the spark for our idiocy. Think about what would have happened if we eliminated 100% of human caused fires, and wound up with just one natural fire every fifty years. We'd be left with nothing but ashes from sea to soot covered sea.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Utah resident here, just over the freeway from the fire. The area in question, like all of the major Utah fires this season, is mostly grasslands. Annual grasses, small bushes, that sort of thing. There are some scrub oak and juniper further up the canyon, but these also are really bushy, barely up to the height of a man, and regrow pretty quickly. The idiocy here is not an idiocy of controlled burns. It is an idiocy of building on a hill that burns off every few years as grass lands in the west are pr
            • by Doctor_Jest ( 688315 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @01:35PM (#40430485)

              I can empathize, and I think that the target shooters were not thinking. But what I can't stand is the summary's blatant attempt to turn this into a gun debate, as if the "zealous protection of gun owners' rights" is somehow wrong and anti-American. It's the 2nd fucking Amendment (I'm not ranting at you, I just had to get this off my chest.) The Supreme Court has correctly interpreted "the People" in the clause of the 2nd Amendment to be individuals. (Just like "the People" in the 1st Amendment)... Utah is not doing anything overtly criminal in making sure all rights, even those that people hate (like free speech and the right to bear arms) are protected. This is purely a matter of fire safety. It has 0 to do with guns. It could've been a cigarette. It is not the gun's or 2nd Amendment's fault.

              I think they should be charged and fined as a person(s) who violated a Red Flag warning and built a fire. Nothing about the guns should matter. But I can see /. (in general) loves individual freedom only sometimes. :)

              "Guns are bad, mmmmkay?" -- random /. consensus. :-)

            • Actually, neither building in the grassland nor building in the forest is idiotic, with or without sensible land management process. It becomes idiotic when you build the house out of near-as-makes-no-difference 100% flammable materials, and/or leave trees standing that are capable of falling on your dwelling.

              Falling or topping trees that threaten dwellings and using nonflammable construction materials such as earth bags or shipping containers (with metal shutters) can reduce or even effectively eliminate t

      • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @11:24AM (#40429475)

        The difference is that people will be held responsible if their camp fires get out of control: http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation/recreation_activities/camping.html [blm.gov] Granted, this is for camping on land managed by the BLM, and I don't know how that works for land managed by other public entities. But at least on the BLM site, I didn't find anything for holding people responsible for fires started through indiscriminate gun use. Furthermore, if it can be shown that you willfully started a fire by pouring gasoline out somewhere and lighting it with a match, you will be charged with arson pretty much anywhere.

        So the reason that people are kinda pissed off about this is that you can be held responsible for not keeping fires under control, except if you started the fire with a gun. Then, it's just carry on, and next time, please be more careful.

        Can't believe I have to explain that to you.

      • in the fact that if it were started by 2 identified campers, they surely would have been charged. it doesn't matter what percent of wildfires are caused by what, it is all about who didn't get charged because of retarded laws. simple fix: if you start a wildfire by any means, you pay the price.
    • The problem isn't just (or necessarily) a lack of common sense, it can also be cost. Shooting ranges aren't cheap, especially the indoor ones, and they can also be crowded, with a waiting period. People wanting to go shooting cheaply usually try to find free outdoor places like this for this very reason. There might also not be very many of them available nearby, especially in rural areas.

  • Only in America... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ynot_82 ( 1023749 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @08:32AM (#40428181)

    does the right to pointlessly shoot random shit trump a home-owners right not to have his house burned to a cinder


    • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @08:40AM (#40428223)

      Of course, the fact that no houses have "burned to a cinder" isn't really the issue, is it?

      After all, it's the people who were killed that are important, right? Alas, noone has been killed either.

      Note, from TFA, that the shooters tried to put the fire out, then called 911 when they couldn't. Which is exactly what you'd expect from them, whether or not the fire was actually started by their gunfire...

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 24, 2012 @08:55AM (#40428303)

        This is exactly why nothing changes. Gun nuts won't accept any responsibility for any bad thing associated with gun ownership. Guns purchased in the U.S. used by Mexican drug cartels, fueling gang violence, or ending up in the hands of the mentally desperate who take out other people with them, it's never because there are just too many guns on the street or that they're too easy to purchase.

        If they accepted responsibility for anything it would open the door to some kind of intelligent gun regulation, but we can't have that. So the fault is always somewhere else.

        Just like this guy. Guns caused a massive wildfire that prompted the evacuation of thousands of people, but it's all okay. We can't possibly consider restricting outdoor shooting during periods when conditions are bad, that would be limiting their 2nd amendment rights. Even though we restrict campfires, outdoor burning and other activities.

        They made an effort to put it out, so the thousands of families living in shelters and firefighters risking their lives, that's all okay. It wasn't the poor gun owner's fault.

        • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @09:04AM (#40428377)

          This is exactly why nothing changes. Gun nuts won't accept any responsibility for any bad thing

          Gun nuts, no. Gun owners, yes. There is a difference. A gun owner stores his firearms properly (ammunition separate from the firearm), uses judgment as to where and when he fires his weapon, and above all knows the dangers and risks associated with a firearm and treats it as such. A gun nut is the guy you see posing for a picture by pointing the gun into the camera and rides around shooting road signs with a .22. There is a big difference between the two.

          • by Canazza ( 1428553 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @09:15AM (#40428475)

            And the fact that these people exist mean you have to regulate.

            I would atleast consider 'improper use of a firearm' to be a crime, and firing your weapon when it's possible it would start a wildfire would, to me, be considered improper use. If someone was shooting a gun in the middle of a a fuel leak, you bet your arse they'd be prosecuted for something regardless as to what they were shooting at. Why is shooting on a hot, dry, tinderbox any different?

          • by Stormthirst ( 66538 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @09:38AM (#40428661)

            Surely this is why the right to bear arms should only be part of a "well regulated militia".

          • And why aren't they treated differently? If you are careless with your gun, why are you still allowed to have one?

            What bugs me to no end is people who feel entitled to something but do not want to take the responsibility for it. Yes, guns are dangerous and yes, they can not only kill but also, as we can see here, cause a lot of other troubles. Every right you want comes loaded with the responsibility to use it carefully. And the right to own and use a gun must come with the responsibility to use it in a way

            • If you are careless with your gun, why are you still allowed to have one?

              I'm not really a gun rights kind of guy (never owned one, and only fired one a handful of times - and never anything too exciting either), but I can point out that there's a dangerous second amendment implication embedded in this line of thinking. Taking away gun rights for gray language terminology such as "careless" has a slippery slope associated with it. Today, careless counts as using your gun in a manner which has a chance of starting a fire. Over time what counts as careless can drift, and can be

          • Yes, there is a difference. However, I'd like to pull out the Islamist argument, since the use of it overlaps with the group we're talking about: gun nuts might be different from responsible gun owners, but until we hear responsible gun owners pipe up when the gun nuts are running their mouths, the rest of the world is going to assume that they all agree.

            • by 517714 ( 762276 )
              It is generally very hard to hear us over the noise from the anti-gun crowd and the guns at any cost loonies. Just as it is difficult to hear the majority over those in control of the two dominant parties in this country.
        • by jon3k ( 691256 )
          If it was because someone's grill fell over what would your response be?
      • by jensend ( 71114 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @09:21AM (#40428511)

        So destroying thousands of acres of public and private land, costing the state millions of dollars in firefighting costs, risking the lives of firefighters, and causing >9000 people to evacuate their homes and businesses doesn't really matter as long as nobody got killed and no homes were destroyed?

        Even if the target shooters had the money to pay the firefighting costs (extremely unlikely), the burned lands, the threat to others' lives and property, and the loss of >9000 people's time would be worth a criminal conviction.

        There have been around a dozen fires started by target shooters in Utah this year, and some were larger than this; this one gets the news because it was closer to homes.

        Years ago the legislature seized power to keep counties and municipalities from enforcing anything related to shooting, and they've repealed any and all restrictions on gun use they could find. They too are responsible for the fires.

    • It's not about a "right" to do anything trumping anything else. If there was no law against (target-)shooting in the area in which the shooters were, how do you suggest they be prevented from having done something that caused an accidental fire?

      If your issue is with the fact they won't face punishment for something they couldn't have possibly predicted and didn't intend, how is the lack of punishment in any way related to the fact that thousands of people are now without homes?

      If your issue is the fact that

      • by Ynot_82 ( 1023749 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @08:48AM (#40428265)

        won't face punishment for something they couldn't have possibly predicted

        From TFS:
        The fire was the 20th this year in Utah sparked by target shooting

        and it's only half way through the year!
        That's one fire a week

        • won't face punishment for something they couldn't have possibly predicted

          From TFS: The fire was the 20th this year in Utah sparked by target shooting

          As compared with the 188 human-cause wildfires in Utah so far this year which were sparked by causes other than target shooting. Not that this lets shooters off the hook, but if you're going to impose regulations to prevent wildfires you should probably start with the low-hanging fruit: campfires.

          • won't face punishment for something they couldn't have possibly predicted

            From TFS: The fire was the 20th this year in Utah sparked by target shooting

            As compared with the 188 human-cause wildfires in Utah so far this year which were sparked by causes other than target shooting. Not that this lets shooters off the hook, but if you're going to impose regulations to prevent wildfires you should probably start with the low-hanging fruit: campfires.

            Correction: I took the 218 total human-caused wildfire figure from another slashdot post. I'm not sure where he got it, but the official source [utahfireinfo.gov] reports a total of 229 human-caused fires this year, at least if you add up the agency totals yourself. The "Grand Total" on the page is inexplicably wrong.

          • by jensend ( 71114 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:33AM (#40429085)

            As I've said elsewhere, there aren't that many target shooters, and they start a vastly disproportionate number of fires, and these fires have caused considerably more damage than the vast majority of the fires on that silly list (many of those were zero-acre fires).

            But more to the point: counties, municipalities, and the BLM, Forest Service, and NPS all have the power to restrict campfires, and they often do put restrictions in place during fire season. But the state legislature has not only failed to put reasonable shooting regulations in place but has barred anyone else from doing so.

      • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @08:57AM (#40428331) Journal

        Yeah right, there was no way to predict it. After all, it only has happened 19 times this year before this one.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 1u3hr ( 530656 )

        If there was no law against (target-)shooting in the area in which the shooters were, how do you suggest they be prevented from having done something that caused an accidental fire?

        The problem is the "no law against" part. The government is too afraid of the NRA to suggest any laws that might offend them. As they take the same attitude when people are murdered by gun users it's entirely consistent.

        Any home owners, and/or their insurance companies, affected by such fires should start a class action and sue both the state government and the NRA for creating this entirely predictable hazard. The actual idiots who started the fires should be given some frontier justice, in line with

      • It's not about a "right" to do anything trumping anything else. If there was no law against (target-)shooting in the area in which the shooters were, how do you suggest they be prevented from having done something that caused an accidental fire?

        I don't get this. There is no law against me driving a car (since I have a valid license). But if I cause an accidental car crash, I'm responsible for the damage.

      • There is no framework because the State SPECIFICALLY dismantaled it as a "gun rights" thing. THAT is the point of the article.

        Even though there is a ban in the park on campfires which includes securing lawn mowers, BBQs, and even cigarette butts... It DOESN'T apply to guns... Feel free to shoot away!

    • Yes. Your right to punish idiots "with no commonsense" trumps my right to be alerted in time because those idiots "with no commonsense" will probably just run away and hide their rifles before alerting anyone (let alone the authorities) of anything that might get them thrown them in jail for the rest of their lives.

      And yes, only in Utah, USA, where the population density is so high, it's like Tokyo and Luxembourg merged into one, only smaller, where everybody knows what their neighbors are doing all of the

  • by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Sunday June 24, 2012 @08:34AM (#40428195) Homepage
    IANAL, but the shooters probably face civil liability if any structures are damaged, and possibly even if an asthmatic suffers from just the smoke.
  • by dutchd00d ( 823703 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @08:39AM (#40428217) Homepage

    ... does the right to shoot guns include the right to shoot guns anywhere you damn well please?

    Seems to me there's a parallel with the right to free speech not including the right to yell "fire!" in a crowded theater.

  • by bryanp ( 160522 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @08:41AM (#40428225)

    And recreational shooters are no different. In tinderbox conditions like this you can shoot safely, but you have to be careful. Don't shoot steel jacketed or steel cored ammunition, stick to plain lead or copper jacketed only. Don't shoot tracers, don't use gimmick ammo like Dragon's Breath shotgun shells. Above all, pay attention and be prepared to put out a fire. If you're not prepared to do all of that, then maybe you should just do something else until the weather changes.

    I'm an avid shooter and probably own more guns than most of the people reading this. My knee jerk reaction is to defend "my" side, but I also want to smack down the morons making the rest of us look bad.

  • Off-topic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrL0G1C ( 867445 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @08:45AM (#40428259) Journal

    Article is completely off-topic

  • Dozens of fires (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @08:52AM (#40428289)
    There are fires burning all over Colorado and Utah because of the very dry conditions. This one might have been caused by target shooters, but where's the outrage against the causes of all the other fires? Most are caused by campfires, burning trash, tossed cigarettes, lightning, railroad trains, etc. Target shooting is way down on the list of threats.
    • by ErikZ ( 55491 ) *

      Fire is a normal event in nature. What has made things far worse in Colorado is the government managing the beetle killed trees.

      Imagine a mountainside filled with 50% completely dead, stripped trees standing there baking in the sun.

      No efforts to remove them, just a big pile of firewood waiting to happen.

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      railroad trains

      60 years ago they got rid of the coal burning steamies. The diesels technically could start a fire, but its probably less than 0.01% as often. I don't know how long ago they switched from babbit bushings to roller bearings, but hot boxes where a wheel bearing overheats and catches fire are darn near a thing of the past. Technically it happens once in awhile, but not often, and its almost always caught with telemetry before it bursts into flame. Besides roller bearings don't have manilla rope packing lik

  • by IVI V K ( 2022732 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @09:48AM (#40428729)

    If you accidentally start a fire, you are liable. Why are these people who accidentally start fires with fire arms not just as liable as someone who crashes a car into your house?

    I think they are being provided extra protection since they were using firearms. If you are start a fire intentionally or not, you should be investigated and held responsible for the resulting costs and damages.

    If there is a pattern of gunfire causing fires (20 appears to be a precedent), then tax firearms and ammunition the amount needed to cover all costs. The tax payers and property owners should not have to cover these costs.

    If anything gun ownership should require extra responsibility, but the NRA has pushed gun freedom so far that governments believe freedom is the absence of responsibility.

    Whether used for personal defense or recreation, any damage done with a firearm (killing, destroying property) must at least suffer the same consequences as doing the same damage without a firearm. I personally believe punishment should be harsher for damage resulting from firearms because they are inherently destructive instruments which should necessitate high levels of training and responsibility to insure the least amount of damage results from their use.

    But again, in the US, "a well regulated militia", is interpreted as freedom from gun licences, monitoring, education and responsibility.

  • by sociocapitalist ( 2471722 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @09:54AM (#40428783)

    The right to carry firearms does not grant the right to use them irresponsibly. These idiots should be held accountable not for firing their weapons but for negligence, the same as if they started the fires with careless campfires.

  • by liquidweaver ( 1988660 ) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @11:58AM (#40429731)

    There is absolutely no way some guy firing rounds into any kind of grass caused a fire. I want proof. I've fired of a ridiculous amount of ammunition, of all types, into all kinds of things since I was a little kid. The only time I've ever seen a fire cause by any kind of round is incendiary rounds or a metric crapton of tracers pounded into a target in short order by a minigun.

    Prove it.

"We shall reach greater and greater platitudes of achievement." -- Richard J. Daley