BLM: Bullet ricochet sparked 182-acre SE Oregon fire

Not believed to be criminal in nature

VALE, Ore. - The Malheur Butte fire, which occurred July 4 and burned 182 acres, was sparked by a bullet ricocheting during recreational target shooting, officials said Friday.

The fire started on federal lands administered by the Bureau of Reclamation, with fire suppression provided by Vale District Bureau of Land Management under an interagency agreement. 

The majority of the land that burned is privately owned. A small area of public land managed by the BLM was also damaged. In addition to the BLM's responsibility for suppression and investigation of the fire, a portion of the fire lies within the Ontario Rural Fire District's jurisdiction and also some lands within the Vale Rangeland Fire Protection Association's protection.

During the fire, a section of power lines and a communications tower sustained minor damage. No services were interrupted.

The investigation is being handled jointly with the BLM as the lead agency, assisted by the Malheur County Sheriff's Office.

Along with the bullet ricochet, investigators are pursuing other leads and persons of interest. Names are not being released at this time as the investigation is still ongoing. 

"We do not believe the fire to be criminal in nature. Therefore, we encourage those with any information on the fire to come forward and contact the BLM at 541-473-6361," said Al Crouch, Vale District BLM fire information officer and wildland fire investigator.

You can also contact BLM law enforcement at 541-523-1493 or the Malheur County Sheriff's Office at 541-523-5125.

"The BLM, Ontario Fire Department, and the Sheriff's Office want to thank all of the witnesses who stepped forward to provide information in this case up to this point. Your help has been greatly appreciated," Crouch said.

To help prevent wildfires while target shooting...know before you go.

1) Avoid shooting in dry grass and on hot and windy days. Place your targets on dirt and areas free of burnable vegetation. During fire season, consider shooting at an established shooting range.

2) Use safe targets. Shooting hard targets such as steel plates, rocks or other trash increases the probability of a spark. Use paper or wooden targets instead.

3) Ammunition type matters. Cooper core bullets are the most likely to cause a spark, followed by steel core, steel jacketed and cooper jacketed bullets. Even lead bullets can cause a spark, but are considered the safer option. Like fireworks, incendiary type ammunition, tracer rounds, and exploding targets are extremely likely to cause a fire in dry grass. This is why they are prohibited year-round on public lands.

4) Come prepared. Check the weather and be prepared in case a fire starts. Have a bucket of water, shovel, and/or fire extinguisher ready. Know where you are and have a way to report a fire. Stay on the phone and provide as much information as you can for first responders so they can get there quick and have a clear picture of what is happening. 

"Fires caused by shooting are predictable, therefore they are preventable. Due to the increasing hot and dry weather, we all need to be careful." said Terry Leighton, Ontario fire chief

Crouch added, "Fires caused by shooting are more common than most people think. This is especially the case in very dry flashy fuels, such as cheatgrass. Fires caused by shooting are unfortunately occurring too often on BLM lands in Eastern Oregon, Southwest Idaho and Southeast Washington."

Vale BLM Ranger Stephanie Cox said, "The BLM fully recognizes shooting as a valid use of public lands. We just want people to be safe. Help protect your public lands and the reputation of responsible shooters by shooting safely, obeying restrictions, not shooting signs, and picking up your trash." 

Public use restrictions are being implemented on Vale BLM-managed lands on Saturday.

Information on fire restrictions on public lands in Eastern Oregon can be viewed at

A Burn Ban is also in effect in Malheur County. Details are posted at and

For more tips on wildfire prevention visit:

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