Anchorage’s only fire investigator to get long-needed help

ANCHORAGE — One of the most recent graduates from the Anchorage Police Department academy will soon bring long-needed help to Anchorage’s only fire investigator and his heavy workload.

Fire inspector Brian Dean went through the academy class to learn more about arson investigations. He needs to complete months of field training before he can lead and finish investigations on his own, the Alaska Dispatch News reported.

He had been filling in whenever fire investigator Brian Balega was unavailable.

Balega says the number of cases is overwhelming to the point that some go untouched.

“There are cases I just can’t work,” he said, “and those won’t be in the statistics, because they’re not being followed up on.”

Of about 50 cases Balega investigated in 2015, arson accounted for roughly 30. Some cases take years to investigate and prosecute.

A series of park fires in 2013 recently resulted in plea deals in Anchorage Superior Court.

Schools are frequent targets of arsonists, which prompted Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, to organize a town hall meeting in October attended by members of law enforcement and community officials. They said a playground fire prompted the installation of cameras at one school.

Balega says educators should keep school grounds illuminated.

“We need to be conscious that we shouldn’t make it easy for people to set fires,” Balega said. “When it starts getting dark out, people need to make sure their homes are secure and remove access to things that could be used to start fires, like gas cans.”

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