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Fire investigators descend on Downey for arson seminar

February 7, 2012 |  1:38 pm

ATF Agents

The blaze had almost devoured everything inside the wooden shed.

Made to look like the living room of a house, the flames and smoke had blackened the walls and melted a portion of a couch. It also left a burnt armchair naked with its metal springs exposed.

Sometimes fire damage can act as a clue for investigators when determining the birthplace of a blaze. But looks can be deceiving, and that's what fire experts hope to teach dozens of fire investigators this week during a four-day arson investigation workshop at Downey Studios.

The seminar, which kicked off Tuesday and ends Friday, was organized by the Emergency Management Department in conjunction with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Downey Fire Department, according to ATF spokesman Christian Hoffman.

"This is the biggest event in Southern California," Hoffman said.

The workshops have brought together more than 100 fire investigators from dozens of agencies across the state, making it the first of its kind, Hoffman said. The seminar was put together after the recent Hollywood arson fires.

"It was the right time to bring arson investigators to train and learn the tactics of arsonists," Hoffman said.

Last month, 24-year-old Harry Burkhart, a German national, pleaded not guilty to 100 arson-related charges stemming from a series of fires set between Dec. 30 and Jan 2. Most of the fires, in Hollywood, West Hollywood, Sherman Oaks and surrounding areas, began in automobiles but often spread to residences.

Also last year,  Long Beach investigators arrested two alleged arsonists in connection with dozens of blazes in the city, while a third suspect remains at large, according to authorities.


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--Ruben Vives

Photo: ATF agents examine a wooden shed that was set on fire Monday afternoon as a prelude to a four-day arson investigation seminar at Downey Studios. Credit: Ruben Vives / Los Angeles Times