Arson Refresher Course

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We usually see them sniffing out drugs. But dogs like these also are used in detecting suspicious fires as well.

"We spend a lot of time educating people on arson investigations," says Sonja Rawn, Chief of the Forensic Lab of the Ohio Fire Marshal's Office, "and the type of things we do."

Although the probe for intentionally set fires is far more elaborate than the types of investigations seen on tv shows, there is a science to what the probers do.

"They're able to look at burn patterns and smoke patterns that mean nothing to the lay person," says Tom Huston, Chief of the Fire Marshal's Investigations Bureau. "But to them, it's like fingerprints on the fire, showing exactly how the fire started and where it started."

Traditionally, volunteer fire departments have been the biggest users of the fire marshal's services. but Huston says that, because of belt-tightening in recent years, full-time fire departments are beginning to use them as well.

Is that stretching them to the limit?

"Sometimes, yes," Huston says. "But with our 17 investigations and supervisors, we can devote a lot of time to one area, if need be."

The losses from arson fires stretch well beyond the reported dollar damages. They can also increase insurance rates.

This week has been proclaimed "Arson Awareness Week" in the Buckeye state.