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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Los Angeles Fire Dept. Battles Residential Fire: Reveals Ammunition Storage in Reseda

On Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 8:43 AM, 5 Companies of Los Angeles Firefighters, 5 LAFD Rescue Ambulances, 1 Arson Unit, 2 EMS Battalion Captains, 2 Battalion Chief Officer Command Teams, 1 Division Chief Officer Command Team, L.A. County Health Haz Mat, the Red Cross, DOT and assistance of the LAPD Bomb Squad & Supervisor, responded to reports of an EXPLOSION on W. Ingomar St. in the Reseda area.

Initial reports to responding Firefighters indicated a container was on fire with ammunition exploding, located behind a single family dwelling. As Firefighters arrived on scene, they found 2 outbuildings and a storage container well involved with fire, with confirmation that "thousands of rounds of ammunition" were going off. Firefighters aggressively deployed handlines to achieve a quick knockdown of the blaze, as additional manpower was requested by the IC. For the safety of Firefighters, protective bullet proof vests were donned and portable monitors were expeditiously set-up 40 to 50 feet away as an indirect firefighting method to assist in containing the fire and cooling the contents of the container.

As the bulk of the fire was knocked down, the LAPD Bomb Squad was requested to assist with the incident. 5 properties, surrounding the buildings of fire origin, were evacuated as a precaution to the residents. The owner of the property arrived on scene to assist Fire and Police with information regarding storage inside the container and sheds.

It took 82 Firefighters 1 hour, 56 minutes to completely knockdown the fire. No injuries to civilians or Firefighters were reported. The Red Cross, Canteen Services, was requested for the evacuated residents. The cause and dollar loss estimate is undetermined until the completion of the fire investigation.
~~Los Angeles Fire Department - Media & Public Relations
I can only speak for myself but there is no way in hell I'm going to trust the idea that a round won't fire or that it is going to just bounce off me every time. It is better to play it safe on this than be a LODD.
thanks for the report, good update that's pertinent to this topic... CBz
I've fought several house fires where exploding ammo was a problem.
Generally, they were well-involved.

Upon the first few rounds exploding, we went DEFENSIVE, backed away from the structure, and protected exposures.

One of the things you can do to minimize the chances of a firefighter being struck by a round that cooks off is to stay at the corners of the structure, the same as we do for an impending collapse.

Protection from ammo cook-offs is the same as from radiation - Time, Distance, and Shielding.
a few years back i responded to a rv fire.. the owner stated he stored guns and ammo in the rv parked up next to his house. the decision was made to go defensive and protect the exposure..then, the guy said he had seen his grandson (5 or 6 yrs old) enter the rv just prior to the fire and now could not find him. As the fire was not too bad yet, and he said most of the ammo and weapons were in the front area not in direct fire contact yet it was decided to enter the side door, hit the fire with a 1 3/4" attack line, quick search and get out. I was second man on the hose and had just entered, the nozzle man opened the nozzle with a narrow fog pattern, the steam banked back totally blinding us, then a loud POP to my left, a stinging pain on my left flank up by my armpit. I told my nozzle man we were backing out and we did.. I felt my side and it hurt a but, bit not too bad,when i looked at my glove i thought well s&!t, my glove was covered in red goo...great, i got shot by fate, everyone came rushing over seeing the "blood". The first emt to arrive pronounced me a idiot and told me I was going to make it and get back to work, but the can of tomato soup or paste or whatever was a goner. About two seconds later the kid appeared and apologized for accidently setting the fire playing around and thats why he hid from everyone. During overhaul I found the aforementioned tomato soup can. I am happy to say that it could have been much worse and that that incident could have ended very differently.
In a barrel the primer ignites the powder and pushed the bullet. The longer the barrel, generally the longer the ability for the pressure to rapidly increase and the powder to completely burn. Short barrels tend to produce lower pressures due to the aforementioned barrel length. Loose ammo cooking off builds enough pressure to separate the bullet from the cartridge and the remaining burn and pressure is released to the atmosphere. However if it begins to cook off inside a sealed metal can, the pressure can get up there quick. Pipe bombs are generally made of metal pipes with screw on caps to seal it up. the more durable the material encasing the powder, the bigger the bang. Look at firecrackers. The powders are wrapped in paper. , m-80's were wrapped in cardboard like paper.

Fires Involving Sporting Ammunition

A bit dated, but still a good source of information regarding sporting ammunition exposed to fire.

There should be no rules or laws on guns at all.

  I do not worry to much about ammo cooking off. In the district I work in the neighborhood social clubs (Gangs). On more than a few occasions have disagreements in front of and across the street from our station. So if the guns and bullets are on the street, there is no reason to worry about the rounds cooking off in a fire... lol...You gotta love the City. 

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