3 On Your Side Investigates: Clues in the Ashes - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

3 On Your Side Investigates: Clues in the Ashes

3 On Your Side Investigates: Clues in the Ashes

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT

When a house or a structure goes up in flames, does the evidence of how it started and why get lost in the ashes? Mississippi State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney says no.

He recently stood on the Capitol steps with state and local leaders, announcing an arrest in an arson case at Mississippi Delta Community College. 

"We want arsonists to know that all of the people behind us, and other folks, are working to catch you," he said. 

But determining arson and proving it is a puzzle that takes hard work, skill, and a nose that can sniff out an arsonist's tracks. 

"If someone sets a fire, it's our job to find out who done it," says Deputy State Fire Marshal Kevin Martin. 

Martin walked us through a burned-out crime scene; a vacant house in Hattiesburg that had been destroyed by flames in January. Arson is highly suspected, and Martin showed us why beginning near what used to be the back door. A few steps in, in the hallway area, an irregular burn pattern is seen on the floor. 

"Something was there to make that burn worse," he said. 

Traveling up the hallway to the front of the house, the fire line, or line of demarcation, is high on the wall. That indicates the fire didn't start there, it spread there. 

"You look below your windows, very minimal damage right there," Martin pointed out. 

Another clue is found in a bedroom. A char pattern is seen between uncharred portions of the wood floor. That's another irregular burn pattern, and it tells investigators that something was poured around the room. 

But evidence picked up by an investigator's sharp eye, only goes so far. 

"In our profession, our greatest tool is not something technological. It's a K9," Martin told us.

Martin's work dog, a Belgian Malinois named Sita, is the best in the country at her job. She's currently the National Champion Accelerant K9. 

Sita was deployed on the Hattiesburg crime scene soon after the fire, and she detected traces of an accelerant in the bedroom in a matter of minutes. Manmade tools might have taken hours.

To demonstrate her skills, Martin placed a small drop of rubbing alcohol on a piece of debris in a front room. Martin is trained to pick up on Sita's cues, and when the K9 hits on the substance, he knows it and immediately rewards her with a toy. 

"She put her nose to it and stayed, that tells me that's where the odor is," said Martin. 

The investigation into the house fire is not complete. Suspect interviews will take place soon, and samples taken from the rubble are still being processed at the crime lab.

But with Sita's ability to sniff out ill intentions, Martin is confident arrests are not an "if", but a "when". 

"With her, I can be out in two minutes," he said. 

Mississippi is tough on arson, and every arson is a felony crime. Setting a house or church on fire is considered First Degree Arson. If the arson occurred at a house or business, it's punishable by up to 20 years in prison. If it occurs at a church, 30 years in prison is a possible sentence. 

Arson at a barn, shed, or another type of outbuilding is considered Second Degree Arson. Burning personal property is Third Degree Arson. Fourth Degree Arson is attempted arson. 

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