Explosive Research in California for Fighting Fires

Buildings shook on Tuesday with booms and blasts from bombs and fires set by an unusual source -- arson investigators.

The officials who usually pursue fire starters set alight everything from natural gas vapors to pipe bombs to study how explosives wreak their destruction.

The explosives barrage at the Camp San Luis Obispo Military Reservation was the high point of a three-day training seminar sponsored by the California Conference of Arson Investigators.

"When you're right on a fire and it's already burning, there's no time to train," said John Madden of the San Luis Obispo Fire Department. "When you train, you know what to expect. You know what to look for" -- like the trademarks of certain substances that can tell an investigator which fires are likely accidental and which are intentional.

Organizers also plan to set a few intentional field burns in rural Atascadero to show the effects of wildland fires, spokesman Dan Gearhart said.

Conference members meet every January and July for training seminars featuring field experts teaching the latest in arson investigation techniques, he said.

Distributed by the Associated Press