Fire investigations and pyroterrorism

The Gazette in Colorado Springs has two interesting articles about investigating the cause and origin of wildfires and how thoughts of pyroterrorism have occurred to some folks in the state. No knowledgeable person as far as we know is saying the numerous suspicious fires that have occurred in the front range over the last two years are related to pyroterrorism. However, the 25 Teller County fires in June, 2012, combined with the Black Forest and Waldo Canyon fires that together destroyed about 850 homes and caused several fatalities, has fire investigators and detectives on edge, not ruling anything out.

Below is an excerpt from the second article, about pyroterrorism (which also quoted Dick Mangan, former President of the International Association of Wildland Fire):

…Investigators searching for the cause of a wildfire essentially work backwards, said Bill Gabbert, managing editor of Wildfire Today.

“You have to look for the direction of the spread to see which way the fire is moving,” he said. “So you have to work backwards.”

The quicker the response, the easier it is to find the point of origin because it decreases the area investigators must peruse.

Once the point of origin is located, investigators must determine what started the fire, which, depending on the igniter, “can be fairly easy or hard.”

“If they use a lighter and put it back in their pocket, it’s hard,” he said.

But arsonists also use devices that are left at the scene, sometimes something as tiny as a match.

“If you’re lucky, you can find the match,” Gabbert said. “Even if it’s charred, it helps.”


More information: articles at Wildfire Today tagged pyroterrorism and arson.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please keep in mind our commenting ground rules before you post a comment.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Fire investigations and pyroterrorism”

  1. how about using satellite’s for servalence a memory card could be a cheap way to record activity’s on the earth . then trace the person doing it .

  2. A trained wildfire investigator being on-site quickly helps a great deal. It can turn into a complex investigation demanding a great deal of time and resources to do right. I was lucky in usually having a helicopter immediately available and a FMO who would release it to me early on even during a un-contained fire to look for evidence. Saved a huge amount of time and often quickly confirmed evidence of multiple starts. In one case ATV tracks let right to the arsonist home.

    Other times I found the point of origin with vehicles parked on it and evidence destroyed by initial attack activity as FF started correctly at the origin and worked out along the flanks.

    Political Pyro-terrorism is a real possibility but the responsible parties will want to get credit for their acts and spread fear, that’s the goal of a terrorist organization. I do not know of any group or individual claiming responsibility for these fires.

    Individuals such as serial arsonist/fire investigator John Orr who went to the dark side in the book Fire Lover require a long painstaking investigation often lasting years to catch. In his case he got over confidant, leading to his discovery.
    The book is a good read for anyone in fire.

    I have known several very good and talented wildland fire investigators but in a busy season they will be overwhelmed with work. It takes a special person with knowledge in law enforcement, fire behavior/weather/fuels, arson investigation, an ability to be patient, detail oriented, persistent and possessing good solid investigative skills. Often it takes a team working over long periods to catch a serial arsonists.

Comments are closed.