In what arson investigators described as a first for Orange County, a black Labrador retriever named Buggs was flown in from the Bay Area on Monday to sniff his way through the charred halls of an office building that was gutted by a suspicious fire early Sunday.
The dog found at least four spots where a flammable liquid had been used to ignite the blaze, fire officials said.
The 2-year-old dog, trained to pick up the scent of telltale vapors that linger when liquids such as gasoline are used to start a fire, is handled by the state fire marshal's office in San Francisco. A similarly trained dog is based in San Diego but was unavailable Monday.
Capt. Bill Dumas of the Garden Grove Fire Department said dogs such as Buggs have proven to be highly useful in arson investigations. In service with the marshal's office only since April, Buggs has already helped gather evidence of arson in 19 other cases, officials said.
"The dog concept is very new," Dumas said. "Here in Orange County, a dog has not been used at an actual fire scene to date. These dogs have been in service with the state for only a month to my knowledge."
Dumas said investigators determined that the blaze that scorched 20 office suites at the Cedarbrook Business Park around 2:40 a.m. Sunday was caused by arson. However, they could find no corroborating evidence with their electronic equipment. So they turned to the state fire marshal's office, which flew Buggs in Monday evening.
Damage at the center, at 12900 Garden Grove Blvd., was estimated at $350,000 initially, but Dumas said it could actually be as high as $1 million once tenants assess their losses.
Fire officials were concerned that firefighters may have been exposed to potentially hazardous amounts of asbestos, but they now say that danger was minimal.
"We have learned that the asbestos problem is much less than it was originally thought to be," Dumas said. "County health officials said there is no great concern. It was only used in some minor parts of the roofing material."
Although they may not replace technology, the dogs are certainly a welcome addition.
"A dog is a lot more of a companion than some piece of equipment in your trunk," Dumas said.