Bloodhound puppy trains to sniff out arson cases

The Alabama Forestry Commission has a new member on its team of investigators.

This investigator’s skill lies primarily in his nose.

Blaze, a 6-month-old bloodhound puppy, was purchased in November to track down arsonists. The only arson dog in Alabama, Blaze is still in training, but in about six to eight months he will begin to assist investigators in arson cases, said Steve Lamkin, forest investigator.

Over the last three years, about 42 percent of wildfires in Alabama were arson-related, Lamkin said. He said he hopes the addition of Blaze will prove to be deterrent enough for most would-be arsonists. If more people know that a dog can track down their scents, they might be less likely to commit the crime in the first place, he said.

Blaze was purchased for about $1,000 through donations to the Forestry Commission from the Tuscaloosa County Fire Protection Association, District Three Volunteer Fire Fighters’ Association, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers’ Association. The remainder of the total $6,000 in donated funds will take care of his training, food and veterinary care.

Bloodhounds have been used as arson dogs in other states, including Virginia and West Virginia,said Craig Hill, the Alabama Forestry Commission’s law enforcement chief.

“He is going to be a big help,” Hill said. “People always think about evidence as being a footprint or something like that, but what they forget is that they leave their scent, and that’s something that is very unique to them.”

After Blaze completes his training, he’ll be put to work, helping solve arson cases by following the scent left on evidence.

Once investigators determine the point of origin of a fire, they will bring Blaze to the site. Blaze will pick up a scent from a piece of physical evidence, such as a footprint, a tire track, clothing or a piece of trash.

The scent might be days old and covered over with several other scents, but Blaze should be able to track the scent for a few miles. Already, he can already track scents for about 500 yards while still in training.

Lamkin said even if an arsonist is driving on a highway, as long as a window is open or his scent is released through a vent in the car, Blaze should be able to pick up the scent.

“What he can trail off of is dead skin cells,” Lamkin said.

Blaze began his training at a weeklong event in early December at the National Police Bloodhound Association in South Carolina.

He was introduced to the District Three Volunteer Fire Fighters’ Association at a meeting Thursday by the Forestry Commission.

Hill said the Forestry Commission opted for a puppy because acquiring full-grown dog who was already trained can cost up to $16,000.

Not only will Blaze help in investigations, but he will also be used as a fire prevention symbol for the state of Alabama. He may make appearances at different schools and events to encourage fire prevention, Hill said.

Blaze will also assist in searches for missing persons, such as children or older persons suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, Lamkin said.

Lamkin said the Forestry Commission’s goal is to purchase another arson dog within the next two years.

By Brett Bralley Special to The Tuscaloosa News

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