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I-Team: How Investigators Pinpoint The Cause Of A Fire

BOSTON (CBS) - Understanding the why and how can be critically important for victims of fire. Those answers can have financial and emotional consequences.

Chief Investigative reporter Cheryl Fiandaca has an exclusive look at how investigators carefully pick apart the clues and one dad who says getting those answers will help him cope with the loss of his sons.

Anthony Marrero says he wept when firefighters told him the bodies of his two young boys were found huddled together on the floor in the charred remains of his Lawrence apartment. "Since my boys are gone, I want to find out what caused it, how it got started and if it could have been prevented," he said.

Answering those questions for Anthony and other families of fire victims is what several new fire investigators are learning to do. The program is taught by State Police troopers assigned to the Massachusetts Fire Marshal's Office.

Fire investigators
Fire investigators at Fire Marshal's campus in Stow (WBZ-TV)

Trooper Michael Mazza set four separate fires inside a special building at the Fire Marshal's campus in Stow. "The idea is to light a fire so our investigators can put their new talents to work to trace it back to where it started and how it started. It's the same thing you would do in a real fire," he said.

From the classroom, to a real life fire, the I-Team then got to see those skills in action after a recent house fire in Haverhill. According to State Police Lt. Paul Zipper, each fire is like a mystery. "To simplify it, we are doing an autopsy. We have a death of a building and we try to figure out what caused it," he said.

Haverhill house fire
Firefighters battle house fire in Haverhill (WBZ-TV)

In this case, the fire pattern helped pinpoint where the blaze started, tracking it to the void space between the first and second floor.

But how did it start? Investigators head to the command truck to exchange information.

Local police noted two units in the home failed an inspection a few years ago. And Lt. Zipper said residents mentioned something about a water leak.

Fire investgation
State Police Lt. Paul Zipper examines fire damage at Haverhill home with WBZ-TV's Cheryl Fiandaca (WBZ-TV)

It turns out, that water leak was a critical piece of the puzzle. "The property owner shut the power off and allows a family member there who flips the power back on and we have a fire," he said.

Marrero is desperate to know what caused the fire that killed his boys. "This is a pain that's always there. All I want back is my two kids, that's something not even God can bring back to me right now," he said.

The Fire Marshal's office investigates about 500 fires a year. Investigators say the cause of most of them is faulty smoke detectors and smoking.

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