Behind the blaze: Local fire chief explains steps of investigating fires

An investigation will allow firefighters to learn what caused a blaze and when and how it started.

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – While Columbus Fire and Rescue continued to investigate a suspicious fire, WCBI talked with Columbus Fire Chief Duane Hughes about what goes into a fire investigation and the tools firefighters use to find those answers.

While putting out the fire is the first thing on a firefighter’s list, investigating the cause of those fires is also an important part of the mission of the department.

An investigation will allow firefighters to learn what caused a blaze and when and how it started.

Hughes said a fire investigation begins the second a call comes to 911 and continues at the scene by documenting clues.

“Once we arrive on scene, we let the fire speak to us. Most investigators will tell you before they do interviews or talk to firefighters that have arrived they will go in and begin documenting the scene with photographs or video starting from the outside and letting the scene speak to them,” Hughes said.

When the blaze is out, the fine-tuning begins. Hughes said the origin of the fire will tell officials most of what they need to know.

“Some of the things that will indicate that is what area of the home sustained the most fire damage is looking at lines of demarcation of smoke. You have super heated gases of smoke that leave lines on the walls. Seeing where that lowest line is. That lowest burn pattern,” Hughes said.

Next is understanding the intent and follow-up interviews with residents.

“Intent tells us a lot. You could have two identical fires started with gasoline and intent makes the difference between whether that was an accidental fire or possibly arson,” said Hughes. “We usually start with general questions. And we let the person being interviewed guide that process. And then there may be some things we can confirm that the scene said to us.”

One of the best tools investigators can use to figure out what or who started a fire is the use of technology.

“Ring door cameras and security cameras have become an integral part of any fire investigation we do. They yield a lot of clues,” Hughes said.

Cameras have been the reason investigators were able to zero in on a person of interest for the recent fire in Columbus.

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