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Arson drill helps Calif. investigators hone skills

The Chico Enterprise-Record

CHICO, Calif. — A small abandoned structure at the former Pear Grove Mobile Home Park on East Eighth Street was set ablaze Wednesday, so arson investigators could practice their investigative skills.

The multi-agency drill included firefighters and arson experts from Chico, Oroville, Paradise, El Medio, Cal Fire and the Forest Service.

Chico Division Chief Steve Simpson said two types of fires were set in the building one designed to burn in a small area, the other designed to build up heat to 1,300 degrees, then “flash over” in an explosion of flames.

The blazes were then quickly put out and arson investigators went in to determine the cause of the fires, the origin of the fires, and the burn patterns.

Fire crews had been overhauling the structure for a couple of weeks, removing asbestos and other hazardous materials, and installing new sheetrock on the walls to facilitate the drill.

Simpson said the exercise went well, and gave arson investigators some puzzling scenarios to figure out.

In a couple of them, Simpson said plastic coffee pots were involved. “One we put on a table and made the point of origin for the fire, the other was melted by flames as they moved through the room,” Simpson said. “Investigators had to tell from the burn patterns and the way they melted which was which.”

Simpson said two structures remaining at the former mobile park will be burned in live-fire training drills on March 28 and April 5.

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