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By Miriam Raftery

July 22, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – Revelations that six wildfires in the past six weeks have been caused by recreational shooting in East County has caused a firestorm of controversy.  

Cal-Fire, joined by residents of  Dulzura, Potrero and other areas bordering the Otay Wilderness area have asked the federal Bureau of Land Management to ban shooting on its properties within San Diego County for the duration of this year’s expected severe fire season.  

“We would like to institute prevention measures so that nobody’s hosue burns down,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief John Kremensky, who is assigned to the Dulzura Battalion, told ECM.  “We know that other federal agencies, like the U.S. Forest Service, have implemented temporary closure to shooting during this high wildfire danger time.”

Chief Kremensky confirmed that six fires in or near the Otay Wilderness area, owned by the BLM, in the past six weeks or so have been caused by shooting of firearms. He said he could not recall any fires caused by shooting last year.

Kremensky sent a letter July 18 to the BLM. In his letter, Kremensky stated that he has been contacted by local residents who claim they have contacted the BLM with their concerns, but received no responses.  "I am asking BLM to impose a temporary no shooting ban within San Diego County during the remainder of the 2012 fire sesaon as a means of prevention," Kremensky wrote, adding that a directive from Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar makes clear such steps are "warranted to reduce the risks of new wildfires."

Clayton R. Howe at the BLM responded in a July 18 letter to Chief Kremensky.  Howe said that since June 23, he has been implementing Fire Prevention Patrols to educating shooters on safety, educating 47 shooters over the July 4 weekend alone.  In addition, he stated that he has proposed three possible prevention actions. 

Those potential actions include closing BLM lands south of  State Route 94 to shooting during fire season,  putting up signs to inform people that the area is closed due to shooting abuses and fire danger, and locking additional gates to restrict access. (Some gates onto the BLM land have already been locked in recent years to keep vehicle traffic out of the Otay Wilderness area, though people on foot can circumvent  the gates.)

The proposals have sparked passionate responses on both sides of the issue among community residents.

“The further closure of more and more public lands to the general public will do nothing to make a major dent in the fire problem,” said Mitch Dashiell, a target shooter and retired Naval officer who owns a business selling sporting goods.  “I greatly enjoyed the back country as a young adult and introduced my kids to it many year ago, on public lands. We never left anything but footprints. I want my grandkids to be able to enjoy it also without finding locked gates everywhere they go.” 

As an alternative to “heavy-handed” punishment of the public for the actions of a few individuals, he wants to see authorities punish those who violate the rules instead.

John Hyde, in a an online discussion post, suggested a middle ground. He wants to see a limit on “shooting non-metal jacketed bullets only, and no metal targets” or alternatively, “maybe just shotgun only, or maybe no guns without a hunting license” as well as a requirement for shooters to complete a fire arms safety course.

But resident Laura Cosby notes that there is a gun range at the end of nearby Marron Valley Road where target practice is safe. “Still these shooters feel a need to endanger lives and property to an already traumatized area….These shooters have no idea what it is like to go through two firestorms and to not know if your home is still standing for a week, or the long recovery process taken to get a neighborhood back on its feet both physically and emotionally.”

Some residents have reported signs of target shooting at boards, possibly chemical packets with exploding ordnance.   Cal Fire’s Kremensky said he has received those reports, but is not certain if chemical packets caused the recent fires.

Robin Brailsford, a Dulzura artist and property owner, says she hears gunfire daily.  “What does it cost to put out fires caused by people out there?”  she asked, adding that she has found cigarette butts tossed on the ground—another fire hazard.  She supports the proposed actions to limit shooting.  “This is a very, very needed restriction.” 

She also wants to see all-terrain vehicles  and motorized dirt bikes restricted during red flag alerts.  “During the Harris Fire, there were people racing around to have fun before the fire got here.”  The BLM has limited ATVs to dirt roads, not dry brush, but Brailsford believes that is not enough to assure the safety of her community. She cited a critical need to protect homesteads, oak trees and the water supply. 

Thus far, Cal Fire has managed to keep the shooting-caused fires to under 20 acres. But as the brush grows dryer and should firefighting resources be spread thin due to multiple fires, that could change.

“Every time they put these fires out, it drains all the ponds.  If we suck up all the water in July, there will be nothing left when we need it.  We’ve been lucky six times this year,” Brailsford concluded, asking how many times residents should be forced to rely on luck to protect their homes and lives.

 “Twenty-five percent of my neighbors lost their homes to fire in 2007,” she recalled. “We were evacuated for nine days and had no power for 30. The land was black from stem to sterm, the community torn asunder. None of us will ever forget it. We are only now beginning to recover."

The fire survivor concluded, "Though disaster brings out the best  of us all, let’s be smart enough to not go there again, unless we have to.”


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Reduction of shooting areas is a true concern

With the DRAMATIC reduction in the areas that used to be legal shooting areas you have pushed the law abiding to areas that are either not as safe or not as patrol able. As you reduce these areas even further you eliminate the ability for people to familiarize themselves with their firearms and the safe handling of such. This will result in even further loss of life and property.
The areas that government officials have pushed gun owners to shoot are known areas of drug and illegal alien smuggling thus the areas you find shooting targets, brass, and associated use items are also areas that illegal’s have campfires. I think most if truly investigated properly will be found to be cooking fires. If you were to just see some of these sites you would know this to be true. I have seen them


As to Mr. Dashiell's quote

“The further closure of more and more public lands to the general public will do nothing to make a major dent in the fire problem,” said Mitch Dashiell, a target shooter and retired Naval officer who owns a business selling sporting goods."


I live next to BLM land and "your" people have started shooting behind my house every weekend. Your statement that closing down public lands will not dent the fire problem shows you are one of the most stupid persons in the world or you believe Cal Fire is lying when they say shooters have started six fires recently. I am voting for stupid.


Recreational (i.e. "stupid") shooting during fire season is a GREAT concern for backcountry residents. Bullets can ignite dry brush at a considerable distance from the shooter, who then most likely leaves the area, blissfully unaware of the lives and property put in danger.
We live Deerhorn Valley and suffer through frequent incidents of target and recreational shooting that goes by the name "Beer and Bullets." On two occasions rounds whizzed overhead while I stood just outside our house. On another occasion a round hit a fencepost about 6 feet from where I stood. During just this last week there were several days of afternoon gunfire, even though all residents are cautioned to not even weedwhack or use a mower/tractor except in early morning hours because of fire danger.
Residents at Thousand Trails reported hearing frequent, even daily, gunfire along Jamul Creek, where the most recent fires have started.
CalFire, BLM, the Sheriff's Dept. and other official voices need to get serious about banning recreational shooting during fire season, and residents should call 911 when they hear the shots. Stupid shooting not only costs millions in public firefighting dollars, but endangers human lives, homes, and the treasure that is our San Diego backcountry.

recreation(stupid) shooting

You call recreational shooters stupid and in some cases you are right but not from a fire starting point of view.
It is almost impossible to start a fire with bullets no matter how hot and dry the brush is.brass and lead don't make sparks when they hit things....the vast majority of the fires in the areas south of hwy 8 are started by illegals cooking food or trying to stay warm or other causes as you stated.If fires where started by the shooters it was most likely smokers amoung them not just bullets so don't show your own stupidity.

Hay stairmann

You must be a city boy? People who do not live back here and could care less if they burn down our neighborhood bring surplus steel jacket ammo and even illegal Incendiary ammunition and try to burn down our neighborhoods! What makes you know more than our Cal Fire Chief's about how a fire started? JERK!

Cal Fire confirmed gunfire caused these 6 fires.


That's clearly a concern and preventable.

We should take steps to prevent ALL wildfires. While some are tough to prevent (such as a car accident or defective catalytic converter on a vehicle), others are very preventable.

Should we tell SDG&E not to bother maintaining its lines that have caused fires before, just because it's not the most common cause of wildfires?  Of course not -- I think we'd all agree that power lines should not be allowed to sag like those that started the Witch and Rice fires.

Other common causes include weed cutting equipment, smoking, and arson. We educate people on the dangers of the first two and arrest those caught starting fires intentionally. 

While the Harris Fire was from a campfire (widely believed to have been illegal migrants), I have no info from fire authorities about this being a common cause of fires. Should we try to prevent such fires? Of course, to the degree that's possible.

We ban fireworks to prevent fires and accidents.  Cal Fire got Walmart to take flammable "sky lanterns" off store shelves this summer because of wildfire concerns. 

I don't see tkaing temporary steps to restrictactivities that are proven or highly likely to have caused wildfires to be unreasonable, whatever that activity may be, especially when there is proof that the activity has caused 6 wildfires in 6 weeks. 

If officials took no action, and homes burned or lives were lost, they could also be sued for failing to protect public safety.

This is not about 2nd amendment rights or taking away the right to hunt or take kids shooting -- it's about assuring that the safety of communities come first, while providing safe places for using firearms during fire season. The rest of the year, shooting is not so apt to cause a major wildfire, when the brush is green after rains.






"Almost Impossible" is not good enough...

CalFire determined gunfire was the cause of the last six fires. "Almost impossible" isn't good enough. My tractor muffler doesn't spark, but it can sure start a fire if left in dry grass. Metal targets, steel fenceposts, and steel on granite can all spark and start fires. Even broken glass in the sun has caused fires. My point is that we're in a very tenuous situation this time of year, and it is only common sense to try and eliminate what risk factors you can. Sadly the "Beer and Bullets" mentality seems to include disregard for common sense ("Stupid" still fits.) I do appreciate your comments about smokers and illegal campfires. They are spot-on.