- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) - Iggie is one of the most important tools in Columbus’ fight against arson, and he’s only two years old.

Iggie is a yellow lab trained to detect fire accelerants such as gasoline and other materials favored by arsonists. He’s one of only two dogs with such training in all of Georgia.

“Arson is especially difficult to prove,” said Jeff Meyer, fire chief. “Having Iggie and having David will help protect the citizens of Columbus.”

Fire marshal Ricky Shores said human investigators can find accelerants used in a fire 30-40 percent of the time. Accelerant detection canines can find the materials used by arsonists in more than 90 percent of cases in just a few minutes.

Shores said the Columbus Fire Department looked into a double homicide last fall where the suspect attempted to cover the evidence with a fire. The department had to wait for an accelerant detection canine from north Alabama in order to investigate.

After that, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms offered to train a firefighter from Columbus on handling an accelerant detection canine, they accepted.

To do this job, Iggie was trained by the bureau in Front Royal, Virginia, for 12 weeks before returning to Columbus.

Firefighter David Smith worked with Iggie for the second six weeks of Iggie’s training in Front Royal as well.

“There’s a lot of arson, but people don’t see it,” Smith said. “Good thing about Iggie is if an accelerant was used, he’ll find it.”

As his handler, Smith feeds Iggie every meal.

Before meals, Smith said he hides a tin can or rag nearby and adds a few drops of an accelerant. When Iggie finds it, Smith feeds him.

“It’s basically like playing hide and seek with a dog twice a day,” Smith said.

Shores said the fire department keeps track of the arson rate over the last few years, and it hasn’t changed much. He said Smith and Iggie were trained as a way to be proactive and change that.

According to Shores, the dogs tend to have an eight-year service life. After that, the handler gets to keep the dog.

“I can’t tell you how fortunate we are in Columbus to have this resource here,” Shores said.

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Information from: Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, http://ledger-enquirer.com

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