A wildfire south of Ketchum on Thursday evening may have been started by marksmen shooting at cans of carburetor cleaner, a local fire official said Tuesday.
Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman reported that several men were conducting target practice with AR-15, 9mm, .22 caliber and 12-guage shotguns when one of the bullet’s metal jackets sparked a fire.
Lassman said Wood River Fire & Rescue was dispatched to the scene at 5:12 p.m. on Thursday to a fire on a butte on the north side of Ohio Gulch Road, between the gun club and the Ohio Gulch Transfer Station.
The fire burned 2.2 acres of state land before crews from Wood River Fire & Rescue, the Hailey Fire Department, Bellevue Fire Department, Sun Valley Fire Department, Ketchum Fire Department and the Bureau of Land Management were able to control the blaze four hours later.
Lassman said the men told his department that they were shooting water bottles off of some rocks when one bullet ricocheted and started a fire in dried-out grass and sagebrush.
“They said they were videotaping just shooting bottles of water,” he said. “[But] after speaking to the people that were doing the shooting, it was discovered they may have been shooting a can of carburetor cleaner.”
Lassman said the carburetor cleaner was purchased at a Carquest outlet in Ketchum, where one of the men procured several road flares at the same time. Though the man told investigators that the flares were for personal use, Lassman said the men might have been using the flares and carburetor cleaner together for dramatic effect.
“What they will do is light a flare and put a can of carburetor cleaner next to it,” he said. When shot, he said, the can “explodes and creates a fire ball.”
A number of YouTube videos show the phenomenon that Lassman described, as well as the use of explosive carburetor cleaner to launch bottle rockets.
Lassman said the men were from Colorado and Utah, and that the department has not yet decided whether to bill them for fire suppression.
“They did call in the fire and they—some of them—stuck around and we got statements from them,” he said. “But it was an expensive fire.”
Lassman said the cost of the fire has not been completely calculated yet, but early estimates put expenses between $3,000 and $5,000. The fire required the use of 8,500 gallons of water.
Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson said the fire was likely fueled by this year’s lack of late-season snow or early spring rain.
“We have had a cold, dry spring so far,” he said. “The grass hasn’t had a chance to green up. If we had a wet, warm spring, we’d have a lot of moisture and new growth and green vegetation.”
Lack of that greenery caused the fire to move quickly, Nelson said, adding that expected warm temperatures would allow new growth due to residual moisture in the soil. Conditions are not as dry as they were in 2007, he said, but added that long-term forecasts are showing a dry spring.
Lassman said his crews are prepared for a long and early fire season.
“Our season is just starting earlier, and the weather trends look like they are going to remain this way,” he said. “We’re geared up.”
Calls to the Bureau of Land Management, the agency investigating the fire, were not returned as of press time.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org