Documents obtained by the 100 Mile Free Press reveal what many South Cariboo residents may have already suspected: A wildfire that damaged homes in 2017 was sparked by gunfire at a shooting range.
The Gustafsen wildfire took off on July 6, 2017 and grew to 5,700 hectares, prompting mass evacuations, highway closures and air quality warnings during one of B.C.’s worst fire seasons until it was finally contained on July 24.
The ignition area was determined to be a metal shooting target set up in the grass, with litter such as paper and wood scattered around.
“Observations made from within a grid search of the ignition area indicated recent firearms activity, such as bullets and fragmented bullet remnants,” read a Wildfire Origin and Cause report from the BC Wildfire Service, obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
“The igniting object is likely a hot fragment of metal.”
The report cited a study on wildfire ignition that found the temperature of bullet fragments can exceed 800 C, and that the average ignition temperature of forest fuels ranges from 260 C to 315 C.
Authorities continue to investigate culpability.
In an emailed response to questions, chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek told the 100 Mile Free Press that firearms do not commonly cause wildfires, though it’s become more frequent in recent years, mainly because of the use of exploding targets and target shooting “in certain areas with certain firearms.”
In 2016, the wildfire service recorded one ignition from firearms, Skrepnek said. That went up to six in both 2017 and 2018. So far this year, there has been one.
Restricting the use of guns would be hard to enforce, he added. Officials use signs and other educational material on the responsible use of firearms and the potential to start fires.
“We urge backcountry users and recreational enthusiasts to use caution during wildfire seasons and hot and dry conditions,” Skrepnek said in the email. “Backcountry closures may be implemented during increased fire danger in order to prevent human-caused wildfires.”
Anyone with information is asked to report it to 1-877-855-3222.