If only a fire were like a bomb blast, whose ground zero can be traced backward to the middle point of concentric circles of destruction. But fires are shaped and directed by the whims of winds and contours of terrain. The Associated Press today carries a feature that answers a question many Angelenos have had since yesterday, when officials announced their conclusions that the big blaze in the Angeles National Forest was deliberately set: How will anyone find a clue in 148,000 acres of burned mountain range? (Today's L.A. Times reports that the suspected starting point for the fire was burned over twice by the blaze.) Not only does the arson finding this make the post-fire inquiry a criminal one, it sets in motion a separate homicide investigation, since two firefighters lost their lives in the fire.
The AP feature, written by Greg Risling, Jacob Adelman and Raquel Maria Dillon, quotes a National Forest Service investigator's claim that fire creates as many clues as it destroys, with burn patterns and calculations of fire speeds leading the forest sleuths inexorably to an inferno's starting point. The Station Fire's presumed staging area, Angeles Crest Highway or its immediate vicinity, is well-known to arson investigators, who traced a 2002 Labor Day blaze that burned 20,000 acres to “candles used in Santeria-type animal sacrifice rituals,” which are common to the area. A 2007 Malibu fire that razed more than 50 homes was linked to “pre-cut fire logs and discarded food wrappers by a cave where an illegal campfire had been started.”
The fire detectives won't be spending all their
time on Angeles Crest Highway, however, as their searches often lead
them to stores that sell logs or accelerants linked to specific fires,
and from there they might get lucky and retrieve credit card records
connecting the fire-starters with the catastrophe they created. In the end,
though, people who start fire intentionally or by
accident are usually betrayed by the very land they destroyed.
look for something that is not supposed to be there,” a Forest Service
spokesman told AP. “Something out of the ordinary . . . is there a cigarette
there? A party spot, debris, kids out there with fireworks?”