Residential Fires & Exploding Ammunition

Without getting into the debate about our freedom to bear arms... one thing remains clear... There are a a lot of folks out there with guns and ammunition. Here in California, and don't quote me on this... there seems to be a push to limit access to guns and ammunition from people in an effort to protect us from criminals...  

What this has generated is a fear that the US Government will further restrict access and make it impossible to get ammunition in the future. This fear has created another example of the "Costco" mentality, where people hoard or purchase more than than they really need in fear of not being able to purchase it in the future or just buying things in bulk to save money. 

Meanwhile, we're left holding the bag, so to speak. We still respond to house fires, but sometimes, there is a hidden hazard beyond aerosol cans and propane cylinders exploding.

Ammunition Facts:

Ammunition that is stored in the boxes sold by the manufacturer is not dangerous in a fire. If ignited by intense heat, the brass or plastic cartridge will burst. The particles will not travel very far. The protective clothing that firefighters wear will protect them.

However, if ammunition is stored in a metal container such as a GI .50 caliber ammo box, the ammunition can explode under the right conditions.

LOADED firearms in a house fire can "cook off", meaning the round will fire. This is a dangerous situation. The bullet has all the power as if it was fired normally. There was a case where a loaded semi-automatic rifle was in a wall rack during a fire. The heat caused the rifle to go off, and it continued to fire until the magazine was empty. One round hit a fire truck. The firefighters thought they were beign shot at, and pulled away from the scene of the fire. The house burned to the ground.

Case History 1 / Ammunition Explodes & Damages Firetruck: 

Heat causes ammunition rounds to explode; one bullet strikes a fire engine, no injuries reported.

December 29, 2009 3:17 PM PST

BURBANK — Firefighters who responded to a house fire Tuesday in north Burbank had to
live ammunition that was set off from inside by the heat, officials said.

The house fire in the 800 block of Stephen Road sent ammunition exploding into the air, prompting firefighters to take a defensive stance, Burbank Fire Marshal Frank Walbert said. 

One round hit a Burbank fire engine and another live round was found on the street, Battalion Chief Steve Briggs said. No injuries were reported.


Dave Gadd, a former fun dealer who owns the home, said he was eating breakfast at a coffee shop when a neighbor called to inform of the blaze. His first reaction was, “No. Not me. It must be a mistake,” he said. Gadd, who’s owned the house for 40 years, said he didn’t know what could have started the fire. He had at least 10 guns in home and several rounds of ammunition, he said. Firefighters arrived
at the home at about 8:55 a.m. Tuesday after a neighbor noticed smoke
coming from a window and called 911.

Fire crews ripped at least two large holes on the roof in an attempt to extinguish
the blaze, Walbert he said. But the fast moving flames took over the home’s attic and ammunition began popping off,
which Walbert said sounded like fireworks. Firefighters quickly backed off the blaze and fought it from the home’s perimeter.  “We didn’t want to expose our guys, so we took an arrant stance,” Walbert said.


The cause of the fire remained under investigation Tuesday. Damage to the home and
its contents was estimated at $400,000, Walbert said. It wasn’t the first time firefighters had to deal with live ammunition. Several years ago, local fire crews had to deal with exploding rounds while battling a blaze
at a gun shop near the Glendale-Burbank border.

Case History 2 / Ammunition Explodes and Seriously Injures Firefighter: 

On April 7, 2010, a Ventura County firefighter was injured while battling a blaze that consumed a two-story home. Hundreds of rounds of ammunition began going off in the home while firefighters battled the blaze, and propane canisters also exploded, officials said.

Torres was outside the home, protecting a neighboring building, when he was struck by a piece of shrapnel. It was unclear what kind of flying debris struck Torres, officials said. Torres was treated by fellow firefighters at the scene and transported to Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks then flown by helicopter to UCLA Medical Center for treatment by eye-trauma specialists. When the cartridges started exploding, firefighters retreated from the home.

Police blocked off a large area around the home so no one would be injured. “Nobody’s concluded that it was the ammunition that caused the shrapnel that injured the firefighter because there were other things exploding as well,” Buschow said. Buschow said the ammunition had been stored in three metal, military-style ammunition cans, which were kept inside a metal footlocker. “It was actually stored better than probably 90 percent of people would store their ammunition,” Buschow said.

Each of the three ammo cans contained less than 1,000 rounds of commercially available bullets,

Buschow said. He said that’s not an unusual amount for a sportsman, and there is no indication that the incident involved anything illegal. Buschow said when the ammunition heated to a “cook-off point” the rounds exploded and caused the metal boxes to expand like a “Jiffy Pop” container. Some material from the explosions went through the metal container, he said.

Buschow said when a bullet blows up in such a situation, the brass casing that holds the gunpowder

generally bursts. That can send fragments flying at high speeds, but the bullet itself doesn’t necessarily go anywhere, Buschow said. Oatman said he’s dealt with exploding ammunition a handful of times in his 25-year career with the Fire Department. “It’s not completely uncommon. Fortunately, we haven’t dealt with anyone being injured from it before,” he said.

Other explosive household items such as propane canisters and aerosol cans often pose hazards

for firefighters, however. “It’s common for something to be exploding,” Oatman said. Authorities said the blaze began accidentally when smoldering material from a small fire in a toaster oven ignited in a trash can outside the home. After seeing smoke, the two adults and one child in the home got out on their own and called the Fire Department, Oatman said.

Driven by strong winds, the fire spread from the trash can to a side door in the garage and to a nearby window into the home, officials said. Full Story

Note: I'm not a gun kind of guy. I'm more of a fun kind of guy or what some of you might call a fungi, but that's another story... I don't have much reason to own a gun nor store ammunition, living in suburbia where hunting for my food is pretty much limited to hunting for a parking spot close to the front of the grocery store... With that said, I'm trusting that my brothers and sisters from other parts of the world might have a little more gun-savy than I do and you can share anything here I missed.



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How about finding a hand grenade, during overhaul, in a home that went up in flames? Yes, we really did find a hand grenade. And the clip was still attached, so it wasn't just being used as a paperweight.
While I cant speak for every station in the state of georgia I can speak for my station. Of the last 4 structure fires we have been on 3 had exploding ammunition. As saftey on all of those scenes and as a firefighter Im not going to lie it scared the crap out of me. I instantly got on the radio and let all units both on scene and in bound know of the danger. Sure some people will argue that we have a dangerous job and they are right however, bases on condition, construction, etc. we have a good idea what the fire will do and how to combat it. I have yet to figure out how to anticipate exploding rounds from a structure fire. To make matters worse at one scene the homeowners were adimate that there were NO weapons or ammunition in the home. HA HA not only did we pull our crews back from the house at one point because so many rounds were going of, we found handguns in the home that had serial numbers scratched off. The homeowners gave us a hard time about how we needed to recover thier valuables (safe etc) and fast, yet when the handguns came out nobody wanted to claim those.
I treat every structure as one that would have weapons and ammo inside. That's another reason to stay low, I mean the smoke will keep you pretty low but ammo from a gun would be waist high or higher in most situations. So I just stay low and hope for the best in those situations. One of these days it may bite me in the butt but I got a lot of butt for it to bite me in so.........
Something else to keep in mind are, homeowners that reload their own ammunition. Certain Black powders could be another issue that can be hazardous!
Goes with the territory. Let me see, propane, paint, varnish, hairspray, gas cans, tires, batteries, refrigerator compressors, solvent, paint stripper, beer kegs, dive tanks, booby traps (gotta love those!) meth labs, rocket motors, fireworks, etc, etc.

Biggest hit I took was a 20 lb propane tank, about 5 feet away. Now THAT was a surprise! Pulled a nice (well, at one time) 30-06 loaded and ready to go! Fortunately, it was pointed towards the neighbors house, and not at us entering the building.

Had rounds come at us one time, but there was a guy behind the gun. Domestic, gone way bad! House on fire, he was still inside, and still mad at the world.
and you can still hear after the exploding propane tank?

I really don't see what the big concern is over a video that is kept in the basement...
As a firefighter from rural pa. I have seen a lot of thing from meth labs to pipe bombs and had a few fires with ammunition going off. All of that stuff makes me so thankful that no one has been hurt with those calls a lot could have go wrong. Even simple thing like fuels stored garages are like bombs. we had one that a plastic can full of jet fuel that the can melted down to the fuel but didn't explode and it was by the door. It was found when we where overhauling.
For those unaware of my often, subtle humor attempts, above, you can see Pedro and Napoleon from the Movie, Napoleon Dynamite... CBz
Funny you should post this Mike. We recently had a structure fire with ammunition stored in the garage. Luckily the homeowner was on the scene and warned the first in Engine Officer of the hazard. Here's the link:

Stay safe!
Once again, who knew?
I am not that concerned with loose ammunition cooking off. Even if it hits you, it just stings a little.

But I can promise that when the occupant reloads his own ammo and advises he has a couple of one pound cans of powder in the room, it does tighten up the ol' sphincter.

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