Face of the day

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Tom Dodds screenshot-whaleoil.co.nz

Today’s face of the day is Tom Dodds who is a 22-year-old painter and a keen hunter. He uses hollow point bullets. While hunting he saw a brush fire and, as it was too big for him to put out, he called the Otago fire department. They put out the fire and then sent an investigator in to find out what had caused the fire.

The investigator found a casing that did not match Tom’s casings and concluded that it had caused the fire after ricocheting off two rocks. Unfortunately, he also decided that even though the casing did not match any of Tom’s other bullets that it still belonged to Tom. Tom has been given just three weeks to pay $61,000, all because he rang the Otago Rural Fire Authority to tell them about a fire he had spotted.

To watch the full story on Seven Sharp click here.Still photos, bullet impact(Click the photo to see a larger version. These photos are from the research paper referenced below.)

In research that was published in August, it was found that all types of rifle bullets studied were capable of starting fires in vegetation after being deflected by a steel plate. Fragments of most of the bullets that scientists at the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station collected in a bed of peat moss reliably caused ignitions, specifically those containing steel components (core or jacket) and those made of solid copper. Lead core-copper jacketed bullets caused only one ignition in these tests. Solid copper bullets were the most consistent in producing ignitions at all angles and all targets.

Many wildfires are caused by target shooting, so it is helpful to have some actual data examining how they are ignited and by what type of ammunition. Lead core copper jacket bullets appear to have a low probability of starting fires.

While the military has conducted numerous studies on bullet fragmentation, this is the first time that researchers have looked at the probability of ignition (PI) in vegetation.

This research shows that fires can be ignited by hot fragments of the bullets due to the heat generated when the kinetic energy of the lead, copper, or steel is transformed to thermal energy by plastic deformation and fracturing from the high-strain rates during impact. Lead has a lower melting point than copper or steel, which contributes to the lower PI of lead core bullets.

Probability of ignition of bullets



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  • shykiwibloke

    Sometimes I wonder if the pen pushers everywhere all deliberately conspire to stop normal citizens from helping. Clobber a home invader – you get charged. Help someone at the scene of an accident in the US – you get sued. Clip an out of line kid around the ear – charged. And now help put a fire out and some idiot has a go at you. Well done society!

    • Crowgirl

      And yet Heather DPA, gets nothing for a whole raft of firearms offences. Something is REALLY not right here.

      • shykiwibloke

        But… ‘She didn’t start the fire….’ – groan. Seriously – she was trying to help extend the rules therefore on the righteous side of the argument.

        • Mick Ie

          No, but Sam Morgan did, or at least his employee did, and they weren’t charged.
          “TradeMe founder Sam Morgan won’t face charges over Wanaka fire” ODT 19/3/15

  • R&BAvenger

    So they don’t want to encourage people to report fires down there? The law of unintended consequences, caused by beauracracy.

  • rustyjohn58

    Putting aside the merits or lack of in sending this guy a bill what I can’t figure is how they get to $60k. The firemen are either getting paid anyway or they are volunteers. A truck costs say $200 per hour to hire so at worst a fire truck might be $500 per hour as its a specialist vehicle. Even if they charged for firemen the total would be under $2k per hour. I can’t imagine it took 30 hours to put it out.

    • Spiker

      Was there a helicopter involved? If so that figure would be got to pretty quickly.

      edit to add – which would be why they are hoping to get some other sucker to pay for it.

      • Tom

        Yes there was!

  • Dave

    Has anyone queried the fire investigators credentials, or even investigation methods? Was the investigation thorough, or did they decide it’s caused by a rifle, he has a rifle, therefore it’s his fault? Which it sounds like to me. Unless there is far more the investigator has far more evidence we are unaware of, I doubt it will hold up n court

    • rantykiwi

      During my time in the fire service I saw some absolute howlers of conclusions drawn by their fire investigators. It was one of the catalysts for me leaving.

  • spanishbride

    Even if he did start the fire it was accidental not deliberate. I am not aware that Arsonists who deliberately set buildings alight are charged for the cost of fire fighters. As far as I know they are punished with jail time, not sent a bill. If he did start it it was not deliberate so there should be no punishment.

    • Mark D

      Fires in town are covered by the fire services levy which comes out of building insurance. Rural fires are not covered by this and any farmer / rural worker carries a potential liability for the cost if they cause a fire. With helicopters and monsoon buckets that can easily be $100k per day.

      • shykiwibloke

        You can take insurance out for this. For example – insurance for my lifestyle block is with Farmers Mutual, and a rural fire levy is covered. Just to add to Mark D’s comments – a large expensive rural fire can be levied proportionally across all the farms in the area – not just if you are ‘guilty’ or not.

    • Old Gunner

      Rural people/businesses can and do sometimes get billed after accidentally starting fires. It’s one of the reasons farm insurance policies have a liability insurance component.

  • Tom

    I was responsible for putting many rounds down the ranges on the Yorkshire moors and in hot dry German ranges. When I say a lot , I mean a lot, I would estimate 90 million, Yes 22 years as an infantry officer where 150 men fired 7.62 GPMG and SLR once a week. I had 3 fires in that time, all 3 were firing tracer where the tracer was still burning when it went into the grass. GPMG fired 1;5 tracer so each individual in a shoot would fire 160 rounds of tracer. We often fired at steel falling plate targets. I take the experts opinion with a pinch of salt.

    • Spiker

      The only time we’ve ever had a fire at our range was when it involved tracer. I even have a photo of the fire truck down range.
      We would have had an uncountable number of non tracer rounds fired over the years at steel targets with no issues.

  • oldmanNZ

    The investigator is genuinley not qualified for the job.
    I knew straight away, a lead bullet bouncing of two rocks causing fire is as likely as me getting laid.
    We can have a whole range of layman explaining this is almost impossible, then we can have a panel of university experts who say it is highly possible.

    i guess its who the judge or jury will believe, a group of people living in the real world, or a group of academics who have no idea of the real world.

    • kiwidon

      Unfortunately It was probably not a lead projectile. A common rifle for NZ shooters, on a budget, Is the SKS he was shooting. Much of the imported surplus 7.62 x 39 mm ammo is loaded with copper gilded steel core projectiles.

  • willtin

    I will now think twice before I report a fire.

  • Tracy

    If he has contents insurance he may have some cover under the legal liability section of the policy. Doesn’t take away the unfairness and stupidity of it but may lessen the blow. The policy will also cover defence costs so the insurance company may take that stance & refute his liability so as not to set a precedence.

  • Rick H

    All that research is based solely on projectiles ricocheting off a steel plate.
    I can understand a steel plate causing sparks enough to have the possibility of starting a fire; but not off a rock.

    Where was the steel plate in the bush that started this fire then?

  • Doug

    Way to encourage people to report fires… Give these guys a pat on the back.