How fire investigators get to the bottom of each blaze

Reporter: Rich Kolko Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:
Credit: CCSO

Intentional, accidental, or Mother Nature – each brush fire burning right now gets scrutinized.

A trained group of firefighters serves as fire investigators, all falling under the fire marshal.

The starting point in any fire investigation: the original call.

“They’re going to go back to the original call, where it started, what the first-in engine saw. It always goes back to that first-in engine, what they saw, what they did when they got there,” said Cape Coral Fire Marshal Dave Raborn.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s an open field, a high-rise, a school assembly, movie theater. If there’s a fire there, we look to find exactly what caused the fire.”

Then, they look for evidence and map it out.

“You want to look at direction. Especially on an open field fire do you want to look at the direction where it’s spread. You want to go back to the head. You want to work your way back and the earlier you can get into that the better for the investigator,” Raborn explained.

With 40 years of experience, Raborn has developed a sixth sense.

“Sometimes you look at something and you know something’s not right. But you have to go in with an open mind. Just because it doesn’t look right doesn’t mean it wasn’t accidental.”

With so many fires burning at once, figuring out the case of any one of them is that much more difficult.

“It looks accidental but when you start going through your theories, you find out there’s no way that could’ve happened. And you come up with another theory that says yes, this was a set fire.”

And then, the work has just started.

Government statistics show about 84 percent of wildfires are caused by people, but almost all of them are accidental or careless, such as from smoking, campfires or ATVs.

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