South Dakota investigators really are fighting fire with fire this week. About 50 fire investigators from across the state are in Sioux Falls to address all the burning questions that come with fire investigations.
“Let's say someone lays a beach towel to dry off and someone turns on the light,” arson investigator Jamie Novak said as he laid a towel on top of a halogen bulb.
Within seconds flames started. It’s something fire inspectors see each day. This training is teaching them that sometimes you have to burn to learn.
“All of us have the same issues; the same issues just as he's showing here today [Thursday],” Rapid City Assistant Fire Chief Tim Behlings said.
Novak walked Behlings and the rest of the attendees through all the possible scenarios. From spontaneous combustion, to the household hazards of cigarettes, nothing is off the table. It helps these investigators learn and document exactly how fires start before they get out of control.
“We're seeing the aftermath of it. And this gives us the opportunity to really see the pieces that lead up to it and be able to discuss the reasons why and the chemistry behind it,” Behlings said.
That's why he makes it a point to bring people from Rapid City to this training every year. It also gives investigators proof to back up their reports.
“If they put a cigarette that isn't all the way out, that can reignite the other cigarettes, then all the cigarettes burn and it spreads to the deck and sets everything on fire,” Novak said.
“People and even people in the first service don't see a lot of it start. It really is difficult to understand how quickly it does propagate and continue to spread,” Behlings said.
He suggests builders of all new structures install fire sprinkler systems because fires spread so much more quickly than most folks realize.