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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I believe it's called situational awareness...
What? lol, I have lost hearing of the high ranges, and I have tinnitus pretty bad. I'm sure the propane didn't help much.
sounds like who ever works in the planning department missed a couple of key points... in fact, going through the SCHENECTADY 2020 COMPREHENSIVE PLAN that was ADOPTED BY CITY COUNCIL MARCH 24, 2008, I noted that there is no zoning input for hazardous materials orientated fixed facilities. Does your community not have bulk fuel storage, or any other types of processing that incorporates the use of hazardous materials?

you may have some work ahead of you because the only way to make a community safe is through fire prevention efforts and code enforcement, my problem is that I am not too familiar with New York fire and building code requirements, not knowing what standard you follow.

depending on how your code is written, if a facility poses an unreasonable risk to the community, you have the ability to make changes... but I need to spend more time down the road researching this for you as time permits...


I live in a state which has alot of avid hunters which store and load ammo. The real danger in live ammunition is when the ammunition being cooked off is IN A LOADED CHAMBER. It has a barrell to harness all that energy into a directional force.

The other hazard is the black powder cans them selves being a bigger boom factor.

Now in my past experiences, I have been to many fires with ammunition being cooked off in storage cardboard boxes, (which were not in a gun safe) Most of which had no directional force and was an intense popcorn hazard to the room. Most did not breach the walls in the room they were being stored in.

When we hear to bang, bang, bang, we back up, go defensive and surround - drown.
FETC, Up to reading the story a couple of days ago regarding the Ventura County firefighter, I was under the impression that if the ammunition was not in a loaded chamber then as you mentioned previously, the bullets are not really directed anywhere in particular, so the velocity is minimal and more of an annoyance. I was surprised to read that the metal ammo box was a possible factor. So much for trusting metal ammo boxes...
CBz pardon me if this is a little off thread but is still a similar hazard . A call we had a few years back was for a large shed fire. It was going pretty good as the first units arrived and the owner was in the lane wrenching his hands. Lots of black smoke and flames through the roof didn't bid well for the outcome none the less 2 2 1/2 lines were pulled and the guys started an aggressive attack. Just as we entered the door the owner finally had an attack of conscience and informed us he ran a glass blowing business inside,and had o2 tanks, propane, and acetylene in side. We beat tail and pulled back while the owner asked us to please save his stock,fat chance we went defensive. He later appologized for not telling us sooner but knew ne would be charged for operating an unlicenced busy in a residential area. DONCHA JUST LOVE IT!

I wouldn't bet the farm on your last statement. It still wasn't determined in the story to be shrapnel from an "ammo case", which in this incident was inside another metal foot locker. They mentioned the ammo breached the ammo can but they did not expound on breaching the metal foot locker as well. Could have been exploding fragments from the propane tank or whatever the tank sent flying at the time either. A 20lb cylinder explosion would breach many walls with shrapnel. It also mentions an eye injury, and our eyes being so sensitive to foreign objects that debris could have been really small or large.
So true... but luckily, I hopefully covered my a$$ when I specified that the ammo box was a possible factor... I wonder if we will ever know for sure? Where's Bones when you need her? I live close enough to keep an eye out for any final conclusions or thoughts from the guys involved.
Actually "Hammer" my good friend, the reason you can't hear it...... your getting "OLD" LOL But on a real note you made me think about all that stuff, thanks. Wayne
did i read that right 5 departments responded to that fire same jd i assume
Old, but alive!! That's the goal! Stay safe, stay alive.
It was our jurisdiction, the others were called in mutual aid.

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