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Clothing catching fire when some is shot -- real or fiction?

samzheresamzhere BannedHoustonPosts: 10,923 Senior Member
My dad was an, er, "special deputy" back in Kentucky during the late 20s and early 30s, he and his brother were often hired to help the town marshal during rough times when facing bootleggers and such.

When I was a kid, I remember Dad telling me, "When you shoot a guy at close range with a heavy caliber (Dad carried a 1911), sometimes his shirt catches on fire in a little ring around the bullet hole."

Naturally, I figured the old man was blowing steam but as the years went on, I found more and more evidence that Dad's "adventures in posse shooting" were all quite true.

But a shirt catching fire? I'd never heard or seen it until in the Kevin Costner movie "Wyatt Earp", the old sheriff is shot by Ike Clanton and his shirt catches fire briefly around the wound.

Anybody know about this, when could it happen. Mostly black powder I'd guess, rarely with modern propellant, but Dad was certainly shooting standard 230gr smokeless in 1928.

Info? Thanks...
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Replies

  • rallykidrallykid Senior Member Murder MittenPosts: 657 Senior Member
    With a big enough muzzle flash at close contact type of ranges I suppose it is possible. Not so much a big fire as powder burns around the hole. I suppose an actual small fire could be possible if the shirt is made of flammable material like things were in the past or if there was something flammable on the shirt.
    No, I do not have a pink fuzzy bunny fetish but apparently my Facebook hacking wife does.
  • bullsi1911bullsi1911 Moderator Posts: 12,313 Senior Member
    Sounds like something we could set up as a test.
    To make something simple is a thousand times more difficult than to make something complex.
    -Mikhail Kalashnikov
  • MississippiBoyMississippiBoy Senior Member Ridgeland, MSPosts: 819 Senior Member
    bullsi1911 wrote: »
    Sounds like something we could set up as a test.

    [Mythbuster]Am I missing an eyebrow?[/Mythbuster]
  • breamfisherbreamfisher Senior Member Living in a van, down by the river.Posts: 14,038 Senior Member
    Somebody tried to set their shirt on fire by firing a compensated Glock in .40 S&W held against their belly.

    Multiple times.

    No shirt aflame, but I think there were powder burns, some stippling, and possibly some jacket material that worked its way into said person's belly.
    I'm just here for snark.
  • Big Al1Big Al1 Senior Member Panama City, Fl.Posts: 8,689 Senior Member
    I think with black powder it's a good possibility.
  • breamfisherbreamfisher Senior Member Living in a van, down by the river.Posts: 14,038 Senior Member
    Big Al1 wrote: »
    I think with black powder it's a good possibility.
    Better than with smokeless. Especially, I would think, with today's "low flash" powders.
    I'm just here for snark.
  • Gene LGene L Senior Member Posts: 12,754 Senior Member
    Unburned powder from the muzzle at close range might do it.
    Concealed carry is for protection, open carry is for attention.
  • JermanatorJermanator Senior Member Posts: 16,244 Senior Member
    Somebody tried to set their shirt on fire by firing a compensated Glock in .40 S&W held against their belly.

    Multiple times.

    No shirt aflame, but I think there were powder burns, some stippling, and possibly some jacket material that worked its way into said person's belly.
    Yep. I seem to vaguely remember that.
    Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.
    -Thomas Paine
  • SirGeorgeKillianSirGeorgeKillian Senior Member Sovereign SCPosts: 5,463 Senior Member
    Problem is, you are dealing with a flash. Sure it is hot but the ignition source (muzzle flash) is gone too quickly. For a solid to burn pyrolysis has to take effect which is effectively the heating of it until it gives off vapor. Don't know if there will be enough heat for that to happen in that short of a time. Unless of course the material you were trying to ignite was already giving off vapor, like if it were soaked in gasoline...

    Now if you want to make this happen, even if the senareo is not realistic, I'm sure something like a dragon's breath round would more than do the trick.
    Unless life also hands you water and sugar, your lemonade is gonna suck!
    Wambli Ska wrote: »
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  • breamfisherbreamfisher Senior Member Living in a van, down by the river.Posts: 14,038 Senior Member
    Shotgun signalling/incendiary round. The only way to make it work in a handgun would be to use a .410 handgun.

    Incendiary_shotgun_at_night.jpg
    I'm just here for snark.
  • WeatherbyWeatherby Senior Member Posts: 4,953 Senior Member
    Big Al1 wrote: »
    I think with black powder it's a good possibility.

    For sure.

    I've dang near ignited raccoons fur a few times with a .22....smoking pretty good
  • JermanatorJermanator Senior Member Posts: 16,244 Senior Member
    Shotgun signalling/incendiary round. The only way to make it work in a handgun would be to use a .410 handgun.
    So their might actually be a use for the Judge?
    Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.
    -Thomas Paine
  • breamfisherbreamfisher Senior Member Living in a van, down by the river.Posts: 14,038 Senior Member
    cpj wrote: »
    I'm kicking you in the balls for missing not only the sarcasm, but the syntax.
    Me or Jerm?

    There, their, they're...
    I'm just here for snark.
  • breamfisherbreamfisher Senior Member Living in a van, down by the river.Posts: 14,038 Senior Member
    Well, sometimes that F-16 comes by undetected.
    I'm just here for snark.
  • bisleybisley Senior Member East TexasPosts: 10,815 Senior Member
    samzhere wrote: »
    But a shirt catching fire? I'd never heard or seen it until in the Kevin Costner movie "Wyatt Earp", the old sheriff is shot by Ike Clanton and his shirt catches fire briefly around the wound.

    Actually, I believe you are thinking of when the young town marshal, Ed Masterson got shot at point blank range, outside the saloon. Not that it matters in this discussion.
  • breamfisherbreamfisher Senior Member Living in a van, down by the river.Posts: 14,038 Senior Member
    Actually it was Curly Bill Brocius who shot town Marshal Fred White. In "Tombstone" marshal White was portrayed by an 82 year old Harey Cary, Jr., he was actually 31 or 32 at his time of death.

    I don't know about "Wyatt Earp" as I haven't been able to stomach the whole movie. But as Bisley said, it's really more academic than relevant to this discussion.
    I'm just here for snark.
  • samzheresamzhere Banned HoustonPosts: 10,923 Senior Member
    Okay, so as far as we've gone thus far, nobody really knows of this happening in real life, right?

    I know, there are all sorts of possible tests and situations that could be set up, but I'm mostly interested in any historic anecdotes anyone knows of that relate to this.

    So the facts as I have 'em are, assuming my dad was being truthful -- and all his other stories of his rough life at that time I've verified:
    1. Dad was involved in quite a few shootings as a special deputy in the late 20s, early 30s.
    2. He used a 1911, other men mostly .38 revolvers, maybe .357mag later on.
    3. His ammo would have been standard ball ammo of that era.
    4. He claims that occasionally, shooting a guy at close range would briefly start a small fire on the guy's shirt just around the bullet entry.
    5. I'm assuming the shirts would be cotton.
    6. The only time we see this was the movie "Wyatt Earp" and although of course it's fiction, I don't think the movie makers would add this to the shooting without some historic knowledge, since it's apparently never been seen in a film prior, so they'd be goofy to add it just off the top of their heads, and especially since Costner worked hard to make the movie as realistic and historic as possible.

    Anyone got any more ideas, please bring 'em. And thanks for the commentary!
  • RazorbackerRazorbacker Senior Member God's countryPosts: 4,646 Senior Member
    Maybe the bootleggers sometimes had 'shine on their shirts?
    Teach your children to love guns, they'll never be able to afford drugs
  • Gene LGene L Senior Member Posts: 12,754 Senior Member
    6: It was in the movie Tombstone, not Wyatt Earp. I thought the smoke was from the BP blanks.
    Concealed carry is for protection, open carry is for attention.
  • bisleybisley Senior Member East TexasPosts: 10,815 Senior Member
    samzhere wrote: »
    I know, there are all sorts of possible tests and situations that could be set up, but I'm mostly interested in any historic anecdotes anyone knows of that relate to this.
    http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WWmastersonE.htm
    [h=4](4) Ford County Globe (10th April, 1878)[/h]
    At ten o'clock last night. City Marshal Edward Masterson, discovered that a cowboy who was working for Obum of Kansas City, named Jack Wagner, was carrying a six-shooter contrary to the City Ordinance. Wagner was at the time under the influence of liquor, but quietly gave up the pistol. The Marshal gave it to some of Wagner's friends for safe keeping and stepped out into the street. No sooner had he done so than Wagner ran out after him pulling another pistol, which the Marshal had not observed. The Marshal saw him coming and turned upon Wagner and grabbed hold of him.
    Wagner shot Marshal Masterson at once through the abdomen, being so close to him that the discharge set the Marshal's clothes on fire. Marshal Masterson then shot Wagner.
    About this time a man named Walker got mixed up in the fight. He, it appears, was boss herder for Obum, and Wagner was working under him. He also got shot once through the left lung, and his right arm was twice broken.
    Marshal Masterson walked across the street to George M. Hoover's saloon, where after telling that he was shot, he sank to the floor. He was immediately removed to his room, where in half an hour he expired.
    Walker and Wagner were nearly all night insensible, and none thought that either of them could live through the night. However, morning has come and neither are dead; both are in a very precarious condition and their chances for recovery very small.
    The city is in mourning; every door is draped with crape; business is entirely suspended till after the funeral of Marshal Masterson, which will take place at two o'clock p. m., and will be attended by everybody in the city.
    Marshal Masterson will be buried in the Military Cemetery, at Fort Dodge.
  • bullsi1911bullsi1911 Moderator Posts: 12,313 Senior Member
    samzhere wrote: »

    Anyone got any more ideas, please bring 'em. And thanks for the commentary!

    Uhhh... in the closing of the fiction book "My Brother Sam is Dead" when the soldiers execute Sam Meeker, they are so close that the brown Bess rifles catch his clothes on fire.

    That's all I got.
    To make something simple is a thousand times more difficult than to make something complex.
    -Mikhail Kalashnikov
  • breamfisherbreamfisher Senior Member Living in a van, down by the river.Posts: 14,038 Senior Member
    I'm seeing a common trend here among most fiction and bisley's account.....

    Black Powder.
    I'm just here for snark.
  • JayhawkerJayhawker Moderator Manistee Natl ForestPosts: 18,288 Senior Member
    Somebody tried to set their shirt on fire by firing a compensated Glock in .40 S&W held against their belly.

    Multiple times.

    No shirt aflame, but I think there were powder burns, some stippling, and possibly some jacket material that worked its way into said person's belly.

    That was because the subject in question refused to soak his shirt in gasoline....
    Sharps Model 1874 - "The rifle that made the west safe for Winchester"
  • JayhawkerJayhawker Moderator Manistee Natl ForestPosts: 18,288 Senior Member
    It's pretty well documented that Ed Mastersons shirt was set ablaze by a contact shot...and that black powder was what was used during the period. Also, when shooting a muzzleloader, it's not uncommon for an improperly lubed patch to catch fire...
    Sharps Model 1874 - "The rifle that made the west safe for Winchester"
  • samzheresamzhere Banned HoustonPosts: 10,923 Senior Member
    Gene L wrote: »
    6: It was in the movie Tombstone, not Wyatt Earp. I thought the smoke was from the BP blanks.

    No, sorry, the shirt fire was definitely from the movie Wyatt Earp. I watched it recently on cable and remember the scene. And I've got the Tombstone DVD and we also saw it last week.

    If the fire had been accidental resulting from a misfired blank (ala Crow) I don't think it would have ended up in the movie. The way Earp (Kostner) steps up and pats out the little fire is fairly dramatic.
  • samzheresamzhere Banned HoustonPosts: 10,923 Senior Member
    bisley and others, thanks for the info. So it was an occurrence due to close range with black powder, something that could happen occasionally.

    I'm just still wondering where my Dad came up with the story. In all honesty, he wasn't one to invent stories and he was unlikely to tell me this if he'd not seen it personally. Whether he himself was involved in the shooting, I don't know.

    Maybe it was a tall tale after all. It's just that I've verified all his other stories as authentic. Oh well, maybe we'll never know.

    My only thought is that during the 20s, especially for backwoods places like deep rural Kentucky, some people weren't using modern smokeless powder or maybe were reloading with some cheap brand that was a mixture, since as bream says, black powder seems to be the factor. I dunno.

    So thanks again, guys.
  • BigslugBigslug Senior Member Posts: 9,698 Senior Member
    Research the Battle of the Wilderness of 1864: the firing of black powder weapons ignited the undergrowth and more than a few wounded who couldn't move away from the fires got cooked. I imagine the main agent that started the fires was the paper cartridge wrappers that got stuffed down the bore as wadding after the powder was poured out. Throw a century's worth of dry leaves on the ground and SOMETHING'S gonna burn.

    Like so many things in shooting, there's a whole lotta variables involved.

    A GI .45 hardball load is filled with about five grains of fast burning Bullseye. Not a lot of flash duration, but there is flash.

    If you start playing with Elmer Keith's favorite - .357's and .44's full of 2400 - you can bet your stylishy sinister semi-wadcutters there's going to be substantial flash.

    What's the shirt made of?

    How fast is bleeding going to extinguish the smoulder/blaze?
    WWJMBD?

    "Nothing is safe from stupid." - Zee
  • JayhawkerJayhawker Moderator Manistee Natl ForestPosts: 18,288 Senior Member
    samzhere wrote: »
    The way Earp (Kostner) steps up and pats out the little fire is fairly dramatic.

    Earp was in Fort Sumner New Mexico chasing Dave Rudabaugh....the guy patting out the flames was Ed's brother, Bat.... Earp didn't get back to Dodge City until after Masterson was buried...
    Sharps Model 1874 - "The rifle that made the west safe for Winchester"
  • samzheresamzhere Banned HoustonPosts: 10,923 Senior Member
    Bigslug wrote: »
    A GI .45 hardball load is filled with about five grains of fast burning Bullseye. Not a lot of flash duration, but there is flash.

    If you start playing with Elmer Keith's favorite - .357's and .44's full of 2400 - you can bet your stylishy sinister semi-wadcutters there's going to be substantial flash.

    What's the shirt made of?

    How fast is bleeding going to extinguish the smoulder/blaze?

    Well, last to first, the shirt fire was immediate and Dad said it usually just sort of a flash and quick flicker of flames. And as for bleeding, unless a big blood vessel is hit, the bleeding won't be all that much out of the wound, instead mostly internal.

    Shirts I'd assume were cotton.

    This was in the late 20s and early 30s, and I checked on introduction of various cartridges... .357 (designed by Elmer Keith, 1934. .44 Mag, the 1950s, but the 44 special, 1907. So the cartridges in question were likely the .45acp, .44 spl, .38, or just maybe the .357.

    But the caliber isn't that significant as the propellant, I'm thinking. And although "modern" smokeless was prevalent in the 20s and 30s, there were likely plenty of backwoods people who were reloading using "home brew" mixtures, some of which may have contained black powder or similar stuff that might flame on contact in an incomplete burn.

    Whatever the guns or the rounds, I'm pretty sure it wasn't something exotic but instead ammo that was commonly available during that era, the roaring 20s.

    As for black power used in quantity starting fires, I'm pretty sure this happened but the time period I'm talking about was about 1925-1935, so any 19th century accounts are not applicable, including the Wyatt Earp story.

    I dunno.

    And oh, just for some sidebar comments, another thing Dad told me was "When you shoot somebody at close range with a heavy caliber, dust jumps out of their chest about 3 or 4 inches like a little spout." And he'd indicate the distance with his hand. "Actually, it's not dust, it's vaporized blood and body tissue." Anyone want to deal with that one?

    As I said, Dad had been involved in quite a few gunfights, he and his brother working as deputies for this city marshal in the deep mountainous areas of eastern Kentucky, "...where they have all the killins..." as I was told by a 93-year old lady who grew up there. Bootlegging and gambling were rampant there. Nowdays it's still moonshine plus weed and "cowboy coke" (meth).

    Anyway. Good feedback, Big, and thanks.
  • JayhawkerJayhawker Moderator Manistee Natl ForestPosts: 18,288 Senior Member
    samzhere wrote: »
    Anyone want to deal with that one?

    You remember the little dust up we had here about entry wounds that have organs, fat/tissue hanging out? It happens....

    Close/contact shots most always result in the firearm/shooter being showered with blood droplets, bone chips and bits of tissue.
    Sharps Model 1874 - "The rifle that made the west safe for Winchester"
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