Firefighters Watch Flames Destroy Building

Gulfport firefighters watched flames destroy a building Thursday afternoon. But they were only following orders.

The fire department provided a valuable training tool for a college class about arson investigation.

"But you're going to be able to see the fire as it progresses," instructor Tom Payne told his college students.

It didn't take long for the training fire to ignite and spread. His arson investigation students watched as wind fed flames quickly consumed the vacant structure.

"The whole building is going to start shifting. Then what you're going to have is collapse," said fire chief Pat Sullivan.

Gulfport's fire chief gave the students some expert commentary as the flames multiplied.

"We could actually still put that building out, if we wanted to. If we just started flooding it," Sullivan explained.

Moss Point police detective, David Lawson, is among the students. He's learning that arson investigating requires a unique kind of detective work.

"Very different from that of a homicide for example. There's different things you look for in every scene. But there's some different unique patterns to an arson scene that are different from a homicide scene that you need to look for," said Lawson.

Vacant buildings at the old forestry campus provided the perfect learning labs for the students. They divided into teams to investigate a series of fires deliberately set by their instructors.

"Came out and made some controlled burns. And set some evidence out. And now they're investigating it as scenarios," said Payne.

"And there was a clean burn on the chair. And the "V" pattern went up," said one student, as he led a group discussion.

Student teams shared information, using what they've learned in the classroom to pinpoint the cause of a fire and whether it's suspicious.

After this latest exercise, they certainly gained a much better idea of how quickly fire can destroy.