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Old April 29, 2013, 07:20 PM   #1
cjwils
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Ammo going off in a house fire

Every now and then, I see a local news story about a house fire somewhere in which ammunition in the house is said to be exploding. They make it seem highly dangerous. Often, they go on make it seem like only kooks would have ammo in their house.

I have never actually seen ammo ignite in a fire, nor read a report from any writer who knows what they are talking about. What really happens? My hunch is that ammo ignited by an outside heat source, and not contained in the chamber and barrel of a gun, would go "poof", and would not reach high enough pressure to push a bullet with dangerous velocity. Can someone give an authoritative report?
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Old April 29, 2013, 07:29 PM   #2
alex0535
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You will still have projectiles flying through the air but at nowhere near the velocities that they would out of a firearm. I would not want to be next to a fire full of ammunition but it seems like there would be lack of penetration more than 15 feet away.

Here is an educational video produced by SAAMI for firefighters concerning ammunition in fires.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SlOXowwC4c
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Old April 29, 2013, 07:30 PM   #3
dakota.potts
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The instructor at our range told us that a bullet going off outside of a gun won't have the energy of the expanding gasses and will do little more than bounce off a person.

However, I recall the episode of mythbusters where they threw ammo on a fire (.22, .44, and .50 BMG) and it ended up shredding some plywood that was nearby.

So I'm not really sure, is what I'm saying
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Old April 29, 2013, 07:33 PM   #4
444
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This has been covered in the past. And there was some disagreement about it. I can tell you my experience, which means nothing except it was my experience.

I am a retired, professional firefighter. I have been in MANY house fires where small arms ammunition cooked off. No one was ever injured. I never saw any evidence that any damage was caused by it.

When I first got started in that profession, within the first couple shifts I worked, I was at a fire with ammo cooking off. I asked one of the older guys about it and he told me to ignore it. It was a non-issue.

I was on a house fire where a round of ammo cooked off, and the bullet flew out of the house and hit my captain in the chest. It fell harmlessly to the ground and we all got a good laugh about it.

The thing that was REALLY scary was when a BBQ tank let go.
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How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
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Under the trees at the turn of the road,
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Old April 29, 2013, 07:40 PM   #5
dakota.potts
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My girlfriend's house burned down when she was in 7th grade. They had guns and ammo but the guns disassembled and not loaded. The firefighters asked them if they had any guns but I don't know if the ammo did go off.

What did go off were the two cars and the propane tanks.

What I would be more concerned about is a loaded gun. For instance, if you have a handgun on the bedside table that you keep loaded. I think the ammo could cook off while in the barrel and have the focused energy that could cause serious damage.
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Old April 29, 2013, 07:59 PM   #6
Spats McGee
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In my largely liberal-arts-educated, unscientific view . . . . Having rounds cook off would not be good, but the thing that makes them particularly dangerous in firearms is the fact that the explosion is contained and directed, sending the projectile down the barrel. It seems to me that if the rounds are loose, it would be the case that went flying rather than the bullet.

I'm a lawyer, not a physicist. Take this for what it's worth.
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Old April 29, 2013, 08:05 PM   #7
Plumbnut
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Tear a bottle rocket off the stick and you have the same idea. leave it on the stick and it shoots off....tear off the stick it spins around.

I wouldn't want to be hit by either but if I had the choice......

My grandmother threw a bag o bullets in a fire to "get rid" of them and everyone went running peaking around every corner to watch the show.
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Old April 29, 2013, 08:44 PM   #8
jmr40
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The heavier bullet will likely move very little, but the brass case will move with enough force to cause injury. Not nearly as dangerous as a bullet fired from a barrel, but yes, it could cause an injury.

FWIW. Most, if not all fire dept policy is to back away from a burning building where rounds are cooking off if the house in unoccupied. Policy is to place fire fighters in limited danger to save human life, but not property.

This is because of the gunpowder being an accelerant that will quickly make a fire much worse more than concerns about being hit with projectiles. The same policy applies to any accelerant in a home.
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Old April 29, 2013, 09:08 PM   #9
Jim Watson
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Nothing went off when my house burned even though I have melted plastic baggies and boxes and scorched cardboard boxes and metal cans. Also a scorched Jameson's bottle.

I don't know how close the FD got, though.
The fire chief asked me if there was anybody else inside before they hauled me off to hospital and a cop later said he warned firefighters of my ammo and powder holdings. I am told they were still finding hot spots the next day as they went through.
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Old April 29, 2013, 10:49 PM   #10
Come and take it.
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The bullet itself hardly moves. The brass case has lower inertia so it will move first and fastest. If it were involving the life and death of a person it is worth braving as since all that insulation and protective clothing will easily protect against a flying brass case.
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Old April 29, 2013, 11:11 PM   #11
medalguy
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Any experienced firefighter will tell you that a fire fighter in standard turnout gear is perfectly safe from UNCONTAINED ammo. If it's stored in metal ammo cans and cooks off, nothing will generally penetrate the can and it will all be contained within the can. Ammo CONTAINED within a weapon is another matter entirely, and will function exactly the way it's supposed to. Heat it up, boom, and a bullet comes out the barrel with the same velocity as when fired by a shooter.
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Old April 30, 2013, 03:34 PM   #12
Gbro
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Quote:
FWIW. Most, if not all fire dept policy is to back away from a burning building where rounds are cooking off if the house in unoccupied. Policy is to place fire fighters in limited danger to save human life, but not property.
If firefighters backed away from a fire that had sounds like you describe, well, i don't think so!
any arosol can is much more hazzardous than any ammo, "not chambered"
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Old April 30, 2013, 04:37 PM   #13
444
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"FWIW. Most, if not all fire dept policy is to back away from a burning building where rounds are cooking off if the house in unoccupied. Policy is to place fire fighters in limited danger to save human life, but not property. "


I can tell you that the department I worked for, located in a major US city, had no such policy.

That being said, I agree to some degree with what you are getting at. Yes, when you respond to a fire that does not involve a threat to human life, every attempt is made to limit the amount of risk involved in fighting the fire. This decision is made on a case by case basis, based on the actual conditions found upon arrival by the incident commander. That being said, it is considered bad form to fight a fire in a defensive mode, although it is done on occasion.
This decision is made most of the time based on the possibility of building collapse. I have never encountered this based on ammo cooking off.
But, as I said in my first post, I can only base my comments on my own personal experience with the department I worked for. I have no idea of the SOPs of other departments.
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You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

Last edited by 444; April 30, 2013 at 05:05 PM.
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Old April 30, 2013, 04:50 PM   #14
BigD_in_FL
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Ammo, like gun powder, and Tovex water gel just burns in a fire - they need containment and an explosive spark to make them go BOOM
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Old April 30, 2013, 07:29 PM   #15
Toolman
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For every action there is an equal & opposite reaction.....Forget about the theatrics in movies. Ammo that cooks off, unconfined, will expend it's energy into the immediate envirionment. Bang, That's what you get. bullet & case seperation.
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Old April 30, 2013, 09:34 PM   #16
UncleEd
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At an outdoor range I used to frequent outside Chicago, the staff regularly burned unwanted and oddball ammo in the 55-gallon drums along with the usual trash from the day.

I was told that one danger is the primers flying because they are the lightest but still have no real force. Not a great deal was burned at a time.

The staff just lit the fires and stayed back from the drums. The sound was minor.

I think Guns & Ammo years ago reported .22s cooking off in a pocket where
inadvertently some batteries were also carried. A pop and perhaps a very minor flesh wound was all that happened. The magazine then tried cookoffs
using batteries with centerfire ammo and it either didn't happen or took
"forever."
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Old April 30, 2013, 10:47 PM   #17
Lucas McCain
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A few years back our deer shack burned down 2 days before season. when the Fire dept. got there it sounded like a machine gun. They were scared to get close to the fire. They asked about ammo, but there was no ammunition in camp yet. Only two of us out of a gang of 11 and fortunately our rifles and ammo was still in our trucks. What it was that was exploding was all the canned goods ,soda pop, and 8 cases of beer.
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Old May 1, 2013, 09:29 AM   #18
ltc444
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Lucas a good comment.

Aerosol cans, propane containers and other tightly sealed containers are more dangerous than ammo.

It used to be standard practice to dispose of ammo in a burner.
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Old May 1, 2013, 09:40 AM   #19
BPowderkeg
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i am NOT a firefighter nor a volunteer, but in my younger days i lived in a rural area where a fire engine was over 10 miles away and really only good for small fires, i helped put out house fires along side my firefighter Uncle, after the fire was out, we went in, when we found "exploded" ammo the case (30-06) was split and the bullet about 5 to 10 inches away.

i also, maybe foolishly, (you know how kids are !) intentionally burned some center fire and .22 ammo, i took shelter behind a big Oak tree and counted the popping till the last POP !! most of the bullets were in the ashes but several of the cases were gone.

Quote:
I was on a house fire where a round of ammo cooked off, and the bullet flew out of the house and hit my captain in the chest. It fell harmlessly to the ground and we all got a good laugh about it.

i find this to be unbelievable.., unless the bullet cooked off in a gun especially if the round cooked off in a revolver. many years ago a gun shop in Ohio had a revolver on display that was in a fire, no round under the hammer, but the others cooked off, destroying the gun, no doubt, the two rounds that cleared the frame went into the mattress where it was "hidden" !
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Old May 2, 2013, 08:25 AM   #20
444
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BPowderkeg

It doesn't surprise me that you find this unbeliveable. This is, after all, the internet. First hand experience is almost always discounted while guesses and speculation are taken seriously.
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You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
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Old May 2, 2013, 08:41 AM   #21
thallub
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For nearly 50 years i've done EOD/UXO stuff. First served 20+ years in US Army EOD.

Destroyed a billion or two rounds of small arms ammunition, mostly by burning in open pits with dunnage. A bullet or cartridge case seldom travels more than 20 feet after the round cooks off.

This pit contains about ten million rounds of 5.56mm and 7.62mm ammo:


Last edited by thallub; May 2, 2013 at 04:59 PM.
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Old May 2, 2013, 05:36 PM   #22
sir_n0thing
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Quote:
This pit contains about ten million rounds of 5.56mm and 7.62mm ammo:
And I can't find any at my LGS...
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Old May 3, 2013, 11:25 PM   #23
bbqbob51
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Thallub, I guess we have little to worry about but we should have even less worry if instead of burning off the ammo you just delivered it to my house.
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Old May 4, 2013, 06:36 PM   #24
grumpa72
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http://www.saami.org/videos/sporting...irefighter.cfm

SAAMI put out a video of ammo in a fire. They have one in which a fire fighter, in normal gear, gets hit (intentionally) standing in a dangerous place to show that this is not life threatening. At one point, the fire has 100,000 rounds in it.
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