Investigators reveal how they determine the cause of a wildfire

We learn how investigators sift through the clues to determine the cause of a fire.

BOISE - As we have been reporting, wildfire season is well underway across southern Idaho.

The Bureau of Land Management Boise District says they respond to at least one blaze per day.

But determining how they start, the agency says helps prevent potential fires in the future.

Once it’s extinguished, investigators first look at the way things burned.

“You can tell the way things burn by which direction the fire was coming from when it hit that particular piece of vegetation, how intense it was," said fire prevention officer Keri Steneck. "So you determine where the fire is coming from, and... follow those patterns all the way back to where the fire’s origin is at, and once we get there we collect what evidence is there and start to build our case.” 

In a recent case, off of Cole Road and 10 Mile Creek Road, the evidence was tracer rounds.

Steneck says there are almost always clues left behind once investigators pin down where the fire started and rule out whether it was human caused.

“Really we can do that by eliminating lightning," said Steneck. "Lightning usually leaves like a blowhole, or sometimes if it strikes a tree it will splinter that stuff outward, but it doesn’t always do that and so it literally takes looking at every blade of grass and everything out here to determine where origin was at.

"We have some pretty advanced software that can determine exactly where it strikes at and we can use that to eliminate lightning and start to look at our human causes,” she added.

Unfortunately, more than 85 percent of fires started and investigated in the BLM's Boise District are human caused.

“Majority of our fires are started by vehicles and are unintentional; we get a lot of fires from people not greasing their bearings, especially if it’s a boat trailer and it's coming out of the water," said Steneck. 

The findings are then used to better educate the public to prevent future fires.

"If you start a fire, please report the fire," she said. "Let us know about it, so that’s something that affects us all, we all understand that mistakes happen but please report the fire to us if you accidentally ignite one."

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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