Office of the State Fire Marshal Fire Investigators Keith Thomas and Mike Tippie were honored by the Kansas Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators at their annual conference. Thomas was selected as the Investigator of the Year, and Tippie received several awards for photography.
"I am so proud of Keith and Mike for this recognition and the work that they do," Fire Marshal Doug Jorgensen said. "Our investigators are top-notch and are instrumental in keeping Kansans safe."
On the evening of April 22, 2022, Thomas was called to Norton County for a wildland fire that had spread to Nebraska. He was told by the Norton County Fire Chief that there were two known injuries at the time. One of the injuries was a volunteer firefighter who had his brush truck overrun by the fire. The second injury was the driver of a water tender delivering water to the scene.
Macro and micro-scale burn pattern indicators were observed within the pasture, many of them suggesting various possible hypotheses. Thomas also identified numerous civilian and firefighter injuries in Nebraska, including a retired Nebraska Fire Chief who had his vehicle overrun by fire, resulting in his death.
During the course of this investigation, Thomas requested the assistance from the Kansas Highway Patrol airplane to get an overhead perspective of the scene. It was during this flight that Thomas was able to observe a potential area of origin further south. He worked with investigators from Nebraska in a multi-state investigation to gather as many facts as possible.
Thomas returned to the area of interest for further examination. During this examination, he located power lines running through the pasture near a cluster of trees.
This fire resulted in a large monetary loss, consuming about 45,000 acres of land in both Kansas and Nebraska, and resulting in the loss of life. Thomas showed his skills and professionalism in the application of the scientific method and its principles. He utilized his resources and persistence and was able to conclude the fire was accidental due natural effects of weather and improper maintenance of the powerlines.