Dump Fire

Shooters questioning blame for fires

2012-06-23T00:25:00Z 2012-09-11T10:49:13Z Shooters questioning blame for firesBilly Hesterman - Daily Herald Daily Herald
June 23, 2012 12:25 am  • 

The Dump fire is the latest in a string of wildfires caused by target shooting.

State officials have declared that firearms are responsible for starting 20 fires so far this year in Utah. Target shooters have ventured out into Utah's public lands, and some of the shooters ignited fires that have burned hundreds of acres west of Utah Lake, including the still-burning Dump fire.

According to Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff's office, those found responsible for starting the fire can be charged for starting the fire if it is found they were acting in a reckless manner when the fire was ignited. Cannon said civil fines also could be imposed on the culprits to aid in recovering the cost of fighting the fire.

Last week, target shooters using explosive targets started a fire that burned about 200 acres; they were cited for using illegal targets. Two other fires have been attributed to target shooting in the last month in about the same area.

While target shooters are carrying the brunt of the blame for the scorched mountainside areas and massive clouds of smoke that are hovering over Utah County, one firearms enthusiast is wondering if guns really are the cause of the fires this summer.

"I need to know more definitively what is to blame for these fires," said Clark Aposhian, the head of Utah's Shooting Sports Council.

Aposhian wasn't denying that the Dump fire, and other fires, could have been started by irresponsible target shooters but he wants to see more evidence before he feels the blame being placed on gun owners is justified.

"We won't be apologists for improper behavior in anyway," Aposhian said.

Aposhian said the shooting council plans to do their own tests in the coming weeks to investigate which forms of ammunition can actually create large enough sparks to start a fire. Once those results are in, he said the council then will inform its members on how to use their gun safely in the dry conditions that the state is facing this summer.

State and federal agencies with jurisdiction over the public lands have already put a ban in place on tracer type ammunition in their respective lands. A state law passed in 2008, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, and former Rep. Carl Wimmer prohibits any government entity in the state from restricting the use of firearms in the state during a declared emergency, meaning the state cannot restrict gun use even while the fire burns.

Utah County commissioners in their weekly governing meeting on last Tuesday expressed their frustration with irresponsible target shooters who use the area west of Utah Lake for their recreation. Commissioner Gary Anderson noted that he himself is a target shooter but does so responsibly. He hoped that the small minority that are being irresponsible will see the cause of their actions and use better judgement the next time they head out to shoot. The county commission has no jurisdiction over the area in the western part of the county as the land is mainly federally owned land.

Commissioner Larry Ellertson, who was at the fire Friday afternoon, said now is not the time to be target shooting, even if it is allowed.

"We have the right, but we also have responsibility," he said.

This was the most serious fire he'd been involved in during his eight years as a commissioner.

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