Investigators in training learn how to trace origin of a wildfire, collect evidence

With the wildfire danger rating already on the rise in many parts of British Columbia, provincial forestry crews were in Pemberton this week preparing for the worst.

Members of the BC Wildfire Service were not learning about how to extinguish a fire Wednesday, but about what comes after the flames are doused and the damage is done.

"Essentially, what we‘re training them to do is identify evidence when they come on scene of a wildfire, ideally how to protect it, and also moving towards getting them to identify the area that the fire originated from, so that we can bring in higher-level trained investigators," said Marc Simpson, a wildfire technician with the Coastal Fire Centre.

The entry-level investigation course covers a wide range of techniques, including how to spot things as subtle as the angle of char on sticks and branches, the orientation of the foliage around a fire scene and other key pieces of evidence that would be lost to the untrained eye.

Simpson said students were also being taught how to spot small, but important details such as cigarette butts or traces of a camp that could have been the source of a fire, all while collecting and preserving the evidence for the investigation.

"We‘re looking to track back to where the fire originated from," he said. "We‘re following the advance of the fire back to the area of origin."

Students ranged from recent recruits to veterans of the service. All of them called the skills they were picking up invaluable.

"This is very important. This is how we can sometimes get compensation for some of these large fires that destroy a lot of timber, homes, business—so it‘s very important for us," said Connor Browne, a member of the Pemberton initial attack crew.

"The more prepared we are, the better we can action the fires."

Brandi Burns was still learning the intricacies of wildfire investigation, despite 13 years with the Coastal Fire Centre.

"It‘s really important because it allows us to get better at prevention and also to recuperate the costs of putting out fires," she said.

The 2017 wildfire season was the most destructive in the province‘s history.

B.C.‘s South Coast saw its , sparking fears of a similar wildfire season this year.

But while there have been a handful of "wildfires of note" in the province, chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek has said a wet June could change the outlook significantly.

With files from CTV Vancouver‘s Sarah MacDonald