Bloodhound sniffs out arsonists and other fire starters

Bloodhound sniffs out arsonists and other fire starters

15 July 2012

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USA – BOISE — The Boise District Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reports a rise in the number of human-caused fires, and they need help investigating them.

In early July, BLM brought in reinforcements not typical for Idaho: a bloodhound.

“We thought one of the greatest resources to use would be an arson dog that could actually help us solve who was starting those fires,” said BLM Public Information Officer Brandon Hampton.

Hampton told KTVB that only a handful of states use arson dogs as a way to help investigate just who started a wildland fire, and how to apprehend them.


John Bird and his 5-year-old Bloodhound, Jesup, came to Idaho from the West Virginia Division of Forestry to help.

Bird explained investigating wildland fires is tricky. Sometimes it takes hours or even days before a fire investigator can get on scene. That’s because suppression efforts and structure protection is top priority.

However, when Bird and Jesup can get there, the investigation goes quicker.

“We isolate the scent at the specific origin, either with sterile gauze or a piece of physical evidence,” said Bird. “I present that physical evidence to the bloodhound. It’s by the skin cells that come off the human body.”

Bird said the method is not scientific, but it does work.

He also says Jesup has been training for years, and the training continues every time they go out on the scene of a fire.

“She has been doing this since she was 4 or 5 months old,” said Bird. “She can do a crowd of people; she can work through them.”


Bird says Jesup is first harnessed-up, and that puts this arson dog in the fire-sniffing mindset. He says Jesup is then given a sniff of the physical evidence he wants her to find. Bird says that evidence varies from an article of clothing — to even car keys.

Finally, Jesup is let loose to track and find the suspect, or more evidence. “She jumps up on the person when she identifies them,” said Bird.

Sunday afternoon, BLM firefighters were called to a five-acre fire just off Black’s Creek Road called the Black Shot Fire. Jesup and her handler, Bird, also went.

Ultimately, the cause of the fire was determined not to be arson.

“We actually talked to one of the individuals in the area and they were shooting in the area, and where they were shooting appears to be a possible origin of the fire,” said Bird.


Although Jesup’s nose wasn’t needed for this fire, the Boise office of the BLM hopes this bloodhound can help close some unsolved wildland fire cases from years past.

“We have lots and lots of evidence from previous fires, and we thought we could go back and re-investigate that evidence and reopen those cases that were unsolvable — and hopefully with the aid of the dog start solving those,” said Hampton.


Hampton says several other states use arson dogs — including Texas, Alabama and New Jersey — yet Idaho has never before called upon their services.

“This is the first time we have ever utilized a resource like this,” said Hampton. “Police departments use dogs all the time, and now we are finally starting to use them on the wildland fire side.”

What’s more, Hampton said that Jesup and her handler have already forwarded some evidence they’ve found on fires from years past to local law enforcement.

The team will operated in and around Boise until the end of July.

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