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Only on 6: Accident or arson? Why millions of dollars worth of vehicles go up in flames

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In just minutes a car is engulfed in flames, but the one next to it is only showing smoke.

The fast growth of the first fire is a sign of something suspicious.

William McGovern is the Deputy Chief of Investigations for the NYS Fire Prevention and Control.

“This is to teach those first responders things to look for that might indicate to them they should call an investigator in,” McGovern said.

This multi-agency training only happens twice a year for fire departments, police, sheriffs, and insurance agencies across New York State, and it's needed as first responders and insurance investigators say they are seeing more and more cases of car arson.

Kevin Gallagher is the Regional Director for the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

“Some of the vehicles are $50,000, $70,000, $100,000,so a lot of people that can’t afford the payment anymore, or get too high on their mileage, find it easier to just burn the car,” Gallagher said.

It's a crime happening in our communities more often than you'd expect.

Steven SantaMaria oversees training for 15 local fire departments.

“We do have a lot of vehicle fires in Fulton County,” SantaMaria said.

After investigators witnessed simulations of an intentional fire and an accidental fire side-by-side, they were sent to analyze a batch of charred vehicles to decide which fire was suspicious based solely on burn patterns.

SantaMaria says this type of exercise makes a difference.

“We'll have that little bit of knowledge of what we really should be looking for, what we really should be zeroing in on,” SantaMaria said.

Vehicle arson costs insurance companies millions of dollars every year, and the cost trickles down to the consumer in the form of higher premiums.

This training has been going on since 2010. This is the first time it's been held in Fulton County.

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