Boy or girl?
Finding out the gender of his new baby was supposed to be one of the most exciting days of Dennis Dickey’s life – it quickly turned out to be “one of the worst.”
That’s because the now 37-year-old Arizona man unintentionally sparked a wildfire responsible for more than 19,000 scorched hectares (47,000 acres) across the state, forcing hundreds to evacuate and causing millions of dollars’ worth of damage.
On April 23, 2017, the off-duty US Border Patrol agent placed Tannerite, a highly explosive but legal material, inside a target stuffed with colored powder to celebrate his wife’s pregnancy. When he shot at it with a high-velocity rifle, the color was meant to reveal the gender of the couple’s baby, blue for a boy or pink for a girl. The blue powder was accompanied by red flames, quickly spreading across the Santa Rita mountains spurred by high winds gusting up to 64 kilometers (40 miles) per hour, which had prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red flag fire watch earlier that day.
“It was a complete accident,” Dickey told US Magistrate Judge Leslie A Bowman in court, reports the Arizona Daily Star. “I feel absolutely horrible about it. It was probably one of the worst days of my life.”
Dickey immediately reported the incident, cooperated with authorities, and admitted fault. Total losses including suppression costs and damage to land and landholdings totaled more than $8 million – a bill the father now has to foot while spending the next five years on probation. Dickey will also star in a public service announcement in cooperation with the US Forest Service, whose land the weeklong Sawmill Fire occurred on, concerning the cause of the fire.
While Tannerite says their product is not intended to start fires, the explosive has been linked to wildfires in several other states in recent years. A study conducted at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory in Montana suggests nearly one-third of all targets shot with combustible material were “observed to produce rapid flaming ignition of the nearby fuel materials,” namely from “burning powdered aluminum ejected from the explosion.” Though their findings were preliminary, the results were bold enough to move the Forest Service to prohibit the use of exploding targets on public lands.