Brittany Sprout, Public Relations Officer
What’s more exciting than being a detective? which is a forest fire investigator! You won’t learn about this in Law & Order, but the BLM has you covered!
To prevent future fires, we need to know how they start, so these lessons are critical to our fire program. Earlier this week, BLM Fire Mitigation and Education Specialists Carmen Thomason and Teresa Rigby instructed students in Wildland Fire Origins and Causes, which teaches students how to investigate fires, what causes fires, and what clues to look for when investigating. The class featured students from many local, state and federal fire departments to help develop skills and strengthen working relationships.
Although wildfires can occur naturally due to lightning, human-caused fires account for 87% of all wildfires in the United States on a 10-year average. Fire, open burning, vehicles/equipment, and firearms are just a few of the many ways people cause fires. For example, the East Troublesome Fire, Colorado’s costliest fire and the state’s second largest, was caused by humans. Finding the origin and cause of fires is not easy, so our firefighters are trained to recognize the signs and follow the indicators.
Students had the opportunity to practice their new skills after learning research methods every morning. Students traveled to Bear Creek Lake Park in Lakewood, CO, where BLM staff and local fire departments set up realistic investigation situations. Those areas had previously been burned with the park’s permission to create areas for students to practice. The students found various clues such as “exploded cigarettes”, suspicious paper products hidden under rocks, areas of white ash and the direction of the fire when it burned. vegetation.
“Every piece of evidence is important when investigating a fire,” said Carmen Thomason. “Even if something doesn’t have a cause, we need to gather evidence to make sure we’re accurately describing what happened.”
While surveying the areas, students would slowly search the area and use colored flags to mark whether the fire had stopped or progressed and points of interest for further inspection. When there were several points of interest, students could call on the speed detection dog – Jojo or Rotc. These dogs are specifically trained to sit and respond to accelerant scents. Dogs can detect gasoline or other fuels, which helps investigators find the source and cause. These pups are invaluable and can make research a lot easier for our teams!
This five-day course is just one of many opportunities for professional firefighters and stakeholders/partners to learn about wildfires. Lessons like these help ensure that everyone investigating fires follows the same methodology and that wildfire investigations are conducted consistently across the country. Check out our website for more information on our fire program! https://www.blm.gov/programs/fire