RADFORD, Va. (WFXR) — After a semester of textbooks and PowerPoint presentations, fire and arson investigation students at Radford University finally got to do the real thing.

“Sound is the biggest thing, smell is the biggest thing,” said Vladimir Perez, a senior studying criminal justice. “A picture can only do so much.”

Perez is one of 23 students who dug through the charred remains of a Virginia Department of Fire Programs’ (VDFP) trailer. The three rooms inside were burned in a real fire so students could apply what they learned in Radford Professor Todd Jones’ class.

“Usually we try to set up something in a home,” he said. “They’re walking into something that could have been in their house.”

The trailer housed a bedroom, a kitchen, and a living room.

Jones says these are some of the only students in the country who get to have this unique experience.

Radford University and the VDFP teamed up with the Radford and Blacksburg fire departments to run the simulation. The rooms are furnished through a partnership with Lowe’s and the YMCA Thrift Shop to make the situation as authentic as possible.

“It smells like you’re standing inside a campfire,” said student Kade Fisher. “Our room was totally burnt to a crisp. A lot of things were unrecognizable.”

Fisher acted as lead inspector during the mock investigation.

“I never thought I would get to investigate a fire like real life,” said Fisher. “A lot of classes aren’t practically applied, so it gives us that practicality and a better understanding of how to do these kinds of things.”

Students say, regardless of their future careers, studying the scene taught them something valuable about fire safety.