Fire investigator shows 7NEWS how to determine the cause and origin of a wildfiire

Black Forest Fire cause and origin still not known

BLACK FOREST, Colo. - Investigators trying to determine the cause and origin of the Black Forest Fire are focusing their search at a home off Falcon Drive, northeast of Highway 83 and Shoup Road.

The cause and origin have not yet been determined.

A private wildfire investigator set up a makeshift example to show 7NEWS how the cause and origin are revealed.

"Your area of origin has the lowest amount of energy, so your burn patterns are going to be the least intensive," said fire investigator Kirk Schmitt.

In a grassy area, he dug a U-shaped line to indicate an area of land that had been burned by fire.

"You could have 16,000 acres that are burned, but the bottom line is it starts in an area this big," said Schmitt.

To determine where the fire began, Schmitt would look at the vegetation to see which way it burned and which sides of the vegetation avoided being charred.

"Is it the way the grass is bending? Is it how much of it burned?" asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

"Exactly. An advancing fire is going to basically take and eat all this part of the grass away, so you're going to have a really nice char pattern -- black," said Schmitt referring to one side of a clump of grass. "This side, it might be protected, so you'd know that the fire advanced that way."

Using sprinkler flags, he would use red to mark the areas where the fire advanced, yellow to show where it flanked to the side and blue to indicate where the backed off. A collection of red flags would give an investigator a place to hone in on the area of ignition.

"How do you determine what caused the fire?" asked Zelinger.

"Oh, now comes the really cool part," said Schmitt.

Once an investigator has narrowed down the potential origin of the fire, a grid search starts.

"It's like, 'How do you find black stuff in a whole bunch of black stuff when it's all black anyway?'" said Schmitt. "Little by little, I'm going to sift all this debris. I'm going to look for anything in here that may have been potential. A cigarette butt, a match, anything that could be a potential source of ignition that shouldn't be in the forest."

Schmitt worked as a Colorado Springs firefighter for more than 20 years, about 10 of those as a fire investigator.

"If you do this long enough, little things that are anomalies begin to just jump out at you," said Schmitt. "You'll be going through there and you're really focused and next thing you know, you're doing your (grid search) and 'boom,' there's a match stick. A match stick in a burn looks just like a twig, except it's kind of got those four rounded edges in it, and believe it or not it will stand out from all the other twigs."

After Schimitt searches by hand, he said he uses a magnet and a metal detector to look for other evidence such as a metal part from a passing vehicle or yard equipment.

He said even though he's a private investigator, he uses the same best practices that any government investigator would apply to search for the cause and origin.

Print this article Back to Top