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Firefighters burned this home on purpose. Here's why
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Hall County firefighters watch smoke rise from a vacant home as other firefighters knock down the fire from inside during a live fire training on West Ridge Road on Thursday, May 30, 2019. The training is for an arson class which is attended by arson investigators from around the region. - photo by Austin Steele

A dozen or so firefighters stood at a West Ridge Road home’s facade Thursday morning in Gainesville as the smoke started to form.

In seconds, the men walking on the patio were shrouded in the thick, black fumes.

The fire was part of an exercise held by the Hall County Fire Services to train arson investigators.

Capt. Zachary Brackett said the home was donated and has previously been used by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office for SWAT and room-clearing training.

“It’s difficult for us to be able to replicate true fire scenes in a burn building, so when somebody donates something like this we can stage a room, have different set fires and let our up-and-coming fire investigators come in and tell us about the burn patterns,” Fire Marshal Bryan Cash said.

Firefighters' arson training

Go inside a burning house with firefighters as they train in arson investigation techniques at a West Ridge Road home that was donated for the purpose. The video is made with a thermal imaging camera. (No sound.)

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The first room burned in minutes, leaving behind some matches in the ashes. The second room was scorched in a similar amount of time with a cigarette butt hidden in the remains.

Brackett said it allows them to “keep up on their skills” while also working with the sheriff’s office investigators.

“That’s a good extra resource for us, because they have some capabilities with their crime-scene processing that we can take advantage of and vice versa. If we have something that’s an arson and a murder … it allows us to talk the same language when we train together and do things like that,” Brackett said.

The fire suppression unit goes in first to extinguish the flames and ventilate as much smoke as possible, then the arson investigators try to determine the cause and origin of the fire.

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Hall County firefighters put out lines during a live fire training on West Ridge Road on Thursday, May 30, 2019. The training is for an arson class which is attended by arson investigators from around the region. - photo by Austin Steele

Brackett said the units had some newer technology for taking samples at a scene to determine if any accelerants were used.

Though the West Ridge Road home was used to simulate the real-world scenarios, there were no electrical items. The abundant technology that fills the everyday home can add to an investigator’s list when inspecting a fire.

“All the different things that you can have in a bedroom, for instance, that are plugged up, you have to look at all those individually. It can get very, very time consuming,” Brackett said.


West Ridge Live Fire Training

Hall County firefighters begin to file out of the vacant home after knocking down the fire during a live fire training on West Ridge Road on Thursday, May 30, 2019. The training is for an arson class which is attended by arson investigators from around the region.
By: Nick Watson

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