IDL Ramps up Wildfire Investigation, Collaboration with Partners Results in Arrests of Suspected Arsonists

Thursday September 8, 2022

Boise, ID – Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) collaboration with the Idaho State Fire Marshall’s Office and law enforcement on alleged arson fires recently resulted in two arrests with another pending.

Last week the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office arrested a Priest River man accused of multiple counts of arson. Earlier last month the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office arrested a Challis man for arson on the Quinn Fire. An arrest is pending on two other wildfires under IDL protection.

IDL investigates all wildfires under its protection. So far this year the agency investigated 226 wildfires and of those, 102 are under investigation as human caused.

Over the past two years the agency has worked to modernize its fire program. While IDL has always retained a few fire investigators on staff, its new Investigation Program is led by a dedicated manager and includes about 20 other IDL employees who completed specialized fire investigation training.

The program has taken fire investigations to a new level with advanced training, new techniques and new technology including specialized cameras and equipment to help identify accelerants.

“By developing our fire investigation program, our team has better experience, better knowledge, better qualifications, and better collaboration,” said Josh Harvey, IDL’s Chief of Fire Management. “An important part of modernizing fire management is the commitment to communicate and collaborate.”

IDL has successfully pursued civil actions against those who negligently start fires, holding the responsible person accountable for paying the cost of fighting the wildfire, but the agency has no statutory authority to pursue criminal charges. That’s why IDL collaborates with agencies with that can press criminal charges. One of the most vital resources for collaborating on arson fire investigations is the State Fire Marshal.

The State Fire Marshal is the Chief Arson Investigation Officer for the state of Idaho (Idaho Code 41-257) and is called in when it appears a wildfire may have been started by an arson.

Investigating wildfires requires agencies like the State Fire Marshal and local law enforcement working together. Pooling expertise and resources provides a surefire way to build strong cases that ensure criminal charges stand up in court.

Idaho’s Fire Marshal strongly advocates for the team approach, stressing that one agency cannot do everything alone.

“It can take tools from everyone’s toolbox as each agency has its expertise,” said State Fire Marshal Knute Sandahl. “IDL understands wildfire behavior and movement through landscapes, ISP has expertise in interrogations and interviews, specialized equipment is made available through federal agencies, and local law enforcement knows the law and what evidence can be brought forward for a successful prosecution in their county.”

Getting to know partners and their expertise has brought about stronger collaboration and greater success. As time and collaboration progresses, IDL expects more arson caused wildland fires under investigation will be resolved.