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Every time a church is burned there is one common thread: the arsonist won't have has as much experience as the ATF investigator.

"The arson investigator brings to the scene unique ability built up over many years and many fires," says Patrick Hynes, assistant director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "It sounds like an exaggeration but it's not. We bring unparalleled experience in all types of fires."The record bears him out. ATF boasts a 70 percent closure rate on all cases in which arson is suspected.

A Certified Fire Investigator of the ATF trains for two years and must have conducted a minimum of 100 fire scene examinations. This agent must have written report on every one of those fires, and each report is reviewed for technical accuracy. After being certified, he or she must keep up with 40 hours of special training annually.

A veteran investigator will have first-hand experience with thousands of fires.

Four National Response Teams stand ready to respond within 24 hours to help in on-site investigations anywhere in the U.S.

The teams include experts in fire causes and origins, forensic chemists, explosives specialists, structural engineers, legal advisers - and dogs.

In 1983 ATF began studying dogs' ability to detect and discriminate among the odors of fire accelerants at arson scenes. The animals far exceeded expectations, and now the agency has trained 52 dog detectives.

In addition, the agency has 45 auditors available to sniff along the "paper trails" of suspects, evaluating whether they had financial motives for arson.

"We have 1,900 agents who work on three things: explosives, arson, guns," says Hynes. We focus on a limited jurisdiction. We do the repetition. It's no wonder we become good at it."