Fire investigators practice pyrotechnic puzzles |

Fire investigators practice pyrotechnic puzzles

Shannon Litz

Bright blue and yellow sparks from a welding torch set waist-high sagebrush ablaze on Wednesday morning, but the resulting fire wasn’t the result of a careless worker.

It was part of a two-day training exercise for new fire investigators conducted at Minden-Tahoe Airport by East Fork Fire Capt. Terry Taylor.

Firefighters set the sagebrush on fire 10 times in a variety ways to provide different puzzles for the trainees. At the same time, live fire training was conducted with seasonal firefighters putting out the blazes.

Taylor said each of the fires had a distinctive cause that could be determined by examining the scene, including not just what set the fire, but whether it was intentional.

While not quite as hot and dry as he’d like it to start the fires he needed in training, Taylor said it won’t be long before a single spark can ignite cheat grass.

Firefighters from Carson City and East Fork Fire District set and extinguished the fires.

Taylor said he has trained 150 students over the years, including this class of 20 U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management fire and law enforcement investigators, and three private insurance consultants.

He estimated that he’s burned 16 acres around the airport. That burning was planned in conjunction with the University Cooperative Extension to determine where it would do the most good.

Training wasn’t limited to firefighters on Wednesday. Forest service seasonal employee Elizabeth Kenna practiced being public information officer for the fires. She was working out of the Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch in Minden.