BLM Interagency Fire Investigation Training Guidelines

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.

After receiving a weather report from their instructor, the students split into groups to inspect fire areas, which is important to understanding the conditions and conditions when the fire started.

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.

White ash in the burnt area.

These areas had several highlights to give the students the full experience, such as the “exploded” cigarettes scattered throughout the burned areas. Due to the characteristics of cigarettes, when they ignite, they release what looks like a small explosion of white ash. Although not always the cause of fires, they are still important evidence to capture for investigations.

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.

A rock with burnt paper underneath it in a burnt area.

As our students did, you may notice something suspicious about this rock – hence the white flag nearby. In public areas, it is common for visitors to try to put out fires with rocks or other materials. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work and can cause the vegetation to eventually catch fire, as in this example.

“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.”

People standing in a burning area with a marked area indicating the origin of the fire.

After scanning the area, following clues, and bringing in Jojo or Rotc, the teams would determine the origin and cause of the fire. In a real survey, groups would take lots of pictures and document everything they found. They can also collect evidence for further analysis.

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!

A woman stands with a black dog in the burnt area.

Meet Jojo! He works for the state of Colorado (sorry feds, he’s not a fan of USAJobs) and serves as a resource for investigating wildfires in the state. Jojo is trained to sit or even lie down when he picks up a scent. Since he is a working dog, he is fed that way too, and you can see his handler getting ready to give him some food to get an indication.

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!

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