Roanoke’s fire marshal speaks on importance of fire investigations

Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 9:01 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - From a small burst of flames, to an engulfed house, or place of business, it’s no secret fire spreads quickly.

What’s not quick, though, is the process that comes after the flames are out.

“It may sound funny because our guys come back and they’re dirty and filthy, wearing hard hats, but it’s truly a scientific endeavor, that we have to scientifically determine what the cause of the fire is," said Roanoke Fire Marshal David Guynn.

The tools to do this largely consist of notes, cameras, and sometimes actual evidence that can be sent back to a lab for testing, but that can’t always happen.

“Fire by its very nature consumes a lot of the evidence of how it started, whether it’s an accidental cause or an incendiary cause.”

The latter, however, is infrequent in nature, though according to Guynn, misinformation can spread just as quickly as flames can.

“Oftentimes when we get done with a fire, people want to know, is it arson? And there’s a big difference in determining if the crime of arson was committed and whether the fire was started intentionally by another human being," said Guynn.

The notion that fires that happen near one another in proximity and time are human-involved is also typically false. Guynn says it goes back to random statistics.

But what Guynn and his team can control is the accuracy of fire causes, even if it takes a decent chunk of time, or if the most appropriate ruling is “undetermined.”

“We don’t do that to mislead or redirect; when we put a result out, we want to have a lot of confidence in that result and that’s why we do what we do," said Guynn.

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