The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

March 19, 2014

NPS hosts wildfire investigation course

By Brandi Underwood
The Register-Herald

GLEN JEAN — Fire rescue personnel from across the state gathered at the New River Gorge National River headquarters in Glen Jean last week to expand their knowledge on proper wildfire investigation procedures.

Jeff West, chief ranger for the New River Gorge National River, said the national-level course is designed to teach students exactly how to go about investigating a fire to determine whether it was accidental or intentional.

Participants are lectured on all elements included in conducting a solid fire investigation, including recognizing types of physical evidence, following legal requirements, knowing proper methods of documentation, collection and storage, and more.

Arthur Yagel, forestry special investigator for the West Virginia Division of Forestry, said more and more field employees are being trained to recognize the different ways that fires start and how to follow a systematic methodology when conducting a fire investigation.

Yagel said that currently only three forestry special investigators cover the entire the state, so getting additional people trained and certified will be extremely beneficial to future fire investigation efforts.

The course also teaches participants how to look for hidden indicators when investigating a fire, which can often prove tricky, West said.

“You walk out there in the woods and you say, ‘Yep, everything is black,’ (that is) until you start looking at the smaller indicators, and they’re out there, they’re everywhere,” West said.

West said the best part of the training session is the actual fire investigations, which were held Wednesday morning on the grounds of the Summit Bechtel Reserve.  

“We set actual fires in the woods that are just like a typical arson scene. It’s the best learning experience there is.”

West said that fire starters such as cigarettes, matches, fireworks and more are were used to start the controlled fires.

Local agencies like the Mount Hope Fire Department, West Virginia Division of Forestry and National Park Service law enforcement rangers participated in the course.

“The one thing to take away from this is consistency,” West said. “In any investigation, how you approach it is the most important thing.

West added that another beneficial takeaway from the course is the message of teamwork and unification across agencies when joint investigations are required.

Students received fire investigation certification upon completion of the 40-hour course, which concluded Friday.

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com