Fire investigators hone skills

Posted: Friday, April 18, 2008

Often all that remains following a fire is charred material and ash, so to the untrained eye it would appear all evidence of the cause has been destroyed by the heat and flames. This is not so for fire investigators specialists trained to search for subtle clues to decipher where, when and how a blaze began, and most importantly if arson was involved.

"No two fires are exactly the same. Each has its own unique finger print," said Gary Hale, Fire Marshal for Central Emergency Services in Soldotna.

Hale, who has investigated fires since 1984 and currently oversees and supervises an eight-member certified fire investigation team for CES, is also the president of the Alaska Association of Fire and Arson Investigators (AAFAI).

AAFAI is an organization dedicated to the ongoing education of fire investigators in Alaska, and the group is currently hosting a 40-hour "Subtle Science of the Detailed Fire Investigation" seminar at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Emergency Response Center in Soldotna to further the skills of Alaska fire investigators. The course began Monday and ends today.

"We have 28 people from around the state in the course, and 13 of those are from here on the Kenai Peninsula," Hale said.

Hale explained fire investigators need to know not only basic science of fire behavior, but have knowledge of many different areas of study in order to conduct a systematic search of the scene after a burn, to obtain any and all information available, and to successfully piece together the events that occurred in the moments leading up to the fire. As such, he said instructors for the seminar are experts in their field.

"We bring in people that can open our eyes to a different world," he said.

Topics covered in the seminar are also diverse and include courses such as: Alaska State Crime Lab Forensics; Evidence Identification, Recovery, Storage and Preservation; Electrical Fire: Case Forensics; Propane Fires and Installation; Photographing the Fire Scene; Fire Investigation Problem Solving; and Fire Origin and Cause: Case Studies.

For more information on the Alaska Association of Fire and Arson Investigators or the "Subtle Science of the Detailed Fire Investigation" seminar, visit the AAFAI's Web site at

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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