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Vacant burned building an investigation example

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY -- Firefighters set fire to an abandoned house Tuesday so that it could serve as an example for a class of arson investigators this weekend, said Albany Fire Department officials.

A class of 25 firefighters from across South Georgia plans to meet in fire department headquarters, 320 North Jackson Street, starting at 8 a.m. Friday for instruction in fire investigation techniques. Plans call for the class to end Sunday.

"We set the house on fire so the class can come out to the scene to figure out how we started it," fire Chief James Carswell said. "An investigation must first rule out all natural and accidental causes to get to arson as a cause."

When the firefighters ignited the dilapidated house at 1308 Mulberry Ave., they had many options as to how they could do it. They could have staged an electrical-short ignition, a careless smoking scenario or a candle burning down to ignite a curtain as a way to start the fire. Those are common ways fires start.

The firefighters let the fire rage for about 10 minutes then put it out. The evidence of how the fire started remains for the class to sort through.

It will be up to the class members to decide how the fire started when they enter the hands-on sessions at the house Saturday, said Sam Harris, the Albany department's arson investigator. After the class, members will write up their reports, and they will receive a pass or fail grade for continuing education, he added.

To facilitate the class and probably three others planned during the year, firefighters videotaped the fire and how it was started for class review.

The Moultrie Fire Department plans to send its battalion captains too the class, Chief Kenneth Hannon said.

"It will give them more of a hands-on experience," Hannon said. "It will help them make a quick appraisal of the scene for an investigation before investigators are called in."

The class serves as more than training for firefighters. City crews have been demolishing abandoned houses.

"This takes out another house that should be knocked down, and it costs less because there will be less left to be taken away to the landfill than if it was demolished by the city," Carswell said. "It also saves us from having to come out here at 2 a.m. looking for vagrant occupants and putting out a fire someone set."

Next-door neighbors are glad the dilapidated house is going to be removed, no matter the method.

"I'm not worried about the fire," said Alfonza Laney, 75, whose home is adjacent to the empty house. "I thought they were going to knock it down. It'll just be better without it there."

Living one door up from the fire scene, Melvin Mango, 31, had encouragement for the class.

"I think checking the house out will be good for that class," Mango said. "Any way you think, that house, it needs to go."