Blazin’ visit

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 11, 2009

When Blaze the Bloodhound started sniffing around Banks Primary School Thursday, he had the students’ undivided attention.

Blaze is the newest member of the Alabama Forestry Commission and just might be the most popular.

Craig Hill, law enforcement chief for the Alabama Forestry Commission, told the students that Blaze is used to help catch arsonists who set wildland fires.

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“There are about 2,500 wildland fires in Alabama each year and 40 percent of those are intentionally set,” Hill said. “That means that about 1,000 fires are set by people that want to do destroy our wildlands for some reason. They might be upset with a landowner or are trying to conceal another crime or some other reason. But wildland fires threaten lives and do thousands and thousands of dollars in damage.”

Hill said the forestry commission wants students to be aware of the importance of Alabama’s wildlands and the commission’s efforts to protect them for today and all the tomorrows.

“Our wildlands provide many jobs in our state and produce income for many people,” he said. “They provide us with products that we need, like lumber for our houses and furniture and the paper we use everyday. They also provide us places for recreation– for hunting and hiking and bird watching. Our wildlands are also a renewable resource. We need our wildlands so we must protect them.”

Blaze the Bloodhound is heavily involved in finding those who intentionally set fires that destroy the wildlands.

“Blaze is a remarkable dog,” said Donnie Parker, his handler. “We work together to find those who intentionally set forest fires.”

Parker said Blaze tracks by scent and everybody has a unique scent that cannot be camouflaged.

“Blaze can smell a footprint and, from the scent, track someone up to three miles from the site,” he said.

“Most arsonists operate from close to home so when we pick up a scent, Blaze can follow it and we can catch the arsonist.”

Blaze was trained in West Virginia, where bloodhounds are used widely. Blaze and Parker will continue to receive training to better equip them to track down arsonists.

Blaze can also be used to find children who are lost.

Blaze was purchased with donated funds and at the urging of Linda Casey, state forester Alabama Forestry Commission.