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A nose for arson: The 'tail' of Minnesota's only accelerant-detecting canine

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Tracking down the source of a fire in a probable arson case can be a time-consuming task, but thanks to a keen sense of smell, fire investigators are able to get to the source of the blaze much faster.

Wish, a nearly 4-year-old yellow lab, is a member of the Cloquet Area Fire District and he's the only certified accelerant-detecting dog in the state, the St. Cloud Times reports.

He and his handler Jason Maki, an arson investigator in Cloquet, became a certified team in 2013 through the State Farm Arson Dog Program, according to the Arson Dog website.

Wish is one of the many dogs throughout the country who are certified Accelerant Detection Canines (ADC) – these pooches are the theme of this week's National Arson Awareness Week, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).

ADCs help speed up arson investigations, and result in a higher conviction rate of arson suspects, the USFA says. Their keen sense of smell is able to detect accelerants used in deliberate fires faster and more accurately than a human investigator, the organization notes.

Maki told Northland's NewsCenter human fire investigators succeed at finding the cause of a fire 30-40 percent of the time, but with a dog like Wish the success rate is 80-90 percent.

The USFA says not only do they help in investigations, but they're also a deterrent to arsons – which cost homeowners billions of dollars every year. On average, an ADC dog works on 90 fires a year, and when they're not sniffing out the cause they are in the community teaching fire safety and prevention, USFA says.

As for Wish, he works on fires in Cloquet, but is also called in to help in high-profile cases in other communities.

At 3 a.m. this past March, Maki and Wish hopped in the car and drove two hours to St. Cloud to help investigate a suspected case of arson – a suspect was arrested and charged in the fire that caused $100,000 worth of damage to an apartment, the St. Cloud Times says.

Before Wish, there was Nick, who served nine years with the Cloquet Area Fire District. He retired in 2010, at age 13, after a successful career sniffing out the cause of fires throughout Minnesota and neighboring states, the Pine Journal reported.

The State Farm Arson Dog Program had targeted Cloquet for the program because of the ongoing arson problems in the county, the newspaper added.

Arson fires causes millions of dollars in damage every year in Minnesota. In 2013 – the most recent data available – there were 918 fires that were intentionally set, causing approximately $6 million in damage, according to the Fire in Minnesota report.

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