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Introduction Terms of Reference

Four (4) Phases of Fire Investigation Scientific Method of Fire Investigation Fire Scene Investigation


more than two-thirds of these fire incidents or 4,396 have been accidental in nature?


Intentional Accidental Under Investigation


PLUME the column of hot gases, flames, and smoke rising above a fire. Also called convection column, thermal updraft, or thermal column. Initially, the temperature of the fire gases decreases as they move away from the centerline of the plume.

CEILING LAYER a buoyant layer of hot gases and smoke produced by a fire in a compartment. As the fire grows, the overall temperature in the compartment increases as does the temperature of the gas layer at the ceiling level.

The radiant heat (red arrows) from the hot gas layer at the ceiling heats combustible materials which produces vapors (green arrows)

FLASHOVER a transition phase in the development of a contained fire in which surfaces exposed to thermal radiation reach ignition temperature more or less simultaneously and fire spreads rapidly throughout the space.

A fully developed fire

Under normal fire conditions in a closed structure, the highest levels of heat will be found at ceiling level and the lowest level of heat will be found at the floor level.

Applying water to the upper level of the thermal layer creates a thermal imbalance.

FLASH FIRE a fire that spreads rapidly through a diffuse fuel, such as dust, gas, or the vapors of an ignitable liquid, without the production of damaging pressure.

BACKDRAFT an explosion resulting from the sudden introduction of air (i.e., oxygen) into a confined space containing oxygen-deficient superheated products of incomplete combustion.

BACK Improper ventilation during fire fighting operations may result in a backdraft.

The four products of combustion are heat, flame, smoke and fire gases.

SEAT OF EXPLOSION - a craterlike indentation created at the point of origin of an explosion.

ARSON the crime of maliciously and intentionally, or recklessly, starting a fire or causing an explosion. Precise legal definitions vary among jurisdictions, wherein it is defined by statutes and judicial decisions.

FIRE PATTERNS are the visible or measurable physical effects that remain after a fire. These include thermal effects on materials, such as charring, oxidation, consumption of combustibles, smoke and soot deposits, distortion, melting, color changes, changes in the character of materials, structural collapse, and other effects.

Burn pattern with fire from above and below.

SPALLING is the breakdown in surface tensile strength of concrete, masonry, or brick caused by exposure to high temperatures and rates of heating resulting in mechanical forces within the material.

Spalling on ceiling. BACK

CLEAN BURN is a phenomenon that appears on noncombustible surfaces when the soot and smoke condensate that would normally be found adhering to the surface is burned off. This produces a clean area adjacent to areas darkened by products of combustion. Clean burn is produced most commonly by direct flame contact or intense radiated heat.

CLEAN BURN a fire pattern on surfaces where soot has been burned away.
Clean burn on wall surface.

Photograph on top shows protected area, while photograph at bottom shows how the chair was positioned during the fire.

The appearance of the V SHAPED PATTERNS is created by flames, convective or radiated heat from hot fire gases, and smoke within the fire plume. The V pattern often appears as lines of demarcation, defining the borders of the fire plume and less heated areas outside the plume.

Typical V pattern showing wall and wood stud damage.

POINTER - the difference in height of a series of fire damaged vertical wood members ranging from high being the farthest away from a source of heating to the shortest being closer.

U PATTERNS are similar to the more sharply angled V patterns but display gently curved lines of demarcation and curved rather than angled lower vertices.

Development of U-shaped pattern.

TRUNCATED CONE PATTERNS, also called truncated plumes, are three-dimensional fire patterns displayed on both horizontal and vertical surfaces.

Truncated cone pattern.

Wood wall studs showing decreasing damage as distance from fire increases.

ARROW PATTERN a fire pattern displayed on the cross section of a burned wooden structural member.

Irregularly shaped pattern on floor carpeting resulting from poured ignitable liquid. Burned match can be seen at lower left.

SADDLE BURNS are distinctive U- or saddle-shaped patterns that are sometimes found on the top edges of floor joists. They are caused by fire burning downward through the floor above the effected joist. Saddle burns display deep charring, and the fire patterns are highly localized and gently curved.

Saddle burn in a floor joist.

In many incendiary fires, when fuels are intentionally distributed or trailed from one area to another, the elongated patterns may be visible. Such fire patterns, known as TRAILERS, can be found along floors to connect separate fire sets, or up stairways to move fires from one floor or level within a structure to another. Fuels used for trailers may be ignitable liquids, solids, or combinations of these.

Trailer running up a stairway.

Blistering of varnish on door and slight scorching of draperies, the only indications of the natural gas flash fire.

A typical pulled bulb showing that the heating was from the right side.

Damage to an outside brick wall caused by thermal expansion of an I-beam in the basement.


Charring of wooden structural elements by heat conduction through wall surface material.

BLEVE boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion.

An LP-Gas cylinder that suffered a BLEVE as a result of exposure to an external fire.

FIRE INVESTIGATION the process of determining the origin, cause, and development of a fire or explosion.

CHAR carbonaceous material that has been

burned and has a blackened appearance. It consists of convex part of the surface of a burn wood, separated by cracks and crevasies.

FIRE SCENE RECONSTRUCTION the process of recreating the physical scene during fire scene analysis through the removal of debris and the replacement of contents or structural elements in their pre-fire positions.

CHAR BLISTERS convex segments of carbonized material separated by cracks or crevasses that form on the surface of char, forming on materials such as wood as the result of pyrolysis or burning.

FIRE ANALYSIS the process of determining the origin, cause, development, and responsibility as well as the failure analysis of a fire or explosion.

DROP DOWN the spread of fire by the dropping or falling of burning materials. This is synonymous with "Fall Down.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment and the formulation and testing of a hypothesis.

AREA OF ORIGIN the room or area where the fire began.

POINT OF ORIGIN the exact physical location where a heat source and a fuel come in contact with each other and a fire begins.

FIRE CAUSE the circumstances or agencies that bring a fuel and all ignition source together with proper air or oxygen.

1st phase

Fire Scene Investigation

Recording/ Documentation Photography

Protect/Preserve Fire Scene Barricade Tape

Information Gathering Elicitation Interview Interrogation

Sketching Audio/Video Utilization Note Taking

Cordon Rope Posting of Uniform Personnel Recognize Threats to Evidence Fire Suppression Overhaul Salvage Use of Tools Constant Walking through the Scene

2nd Phase

Fire Origin Determination

Methods And Assessment

Detail Analysis of Information Location of Area of Origin How Fire Detected Unusual Event Prior to Fire Fire Cause

Observation Analysis Non-Communicating Fires Present Condition& Location of Victim Incendiary Devices Missing Items

Fire Pattern Analysis

Lines or areas of Demarcation

Technology Utilization
Carbon Tracing Detector

Surface Effects
Penetration of Horizontal Surface Consumption of Material in Melting

Last Person seen prior to the fire

Unusual Appearance& Location Trace Evidence Discover

Continuation Fire Pattern Analysis

Surface effects Alligator Deep of Charring Spalling Clean Burn Rate of Charring Oxidation Smoke Soot

Penetration of Horizontal Surface U&V Pattern Inverted U&V Pattern Saddle Burn Arrow Pattern Pointer


Loss of Materials Melting

3rd Phase

Search, Recognize, Collect/Preserve Evidence

Search Method
Strip Method Double Strip Zone Wheel Spiral

Recognize/Identify Evidence Flagging Marking

Record/Document Evidence Prior to Collection Photograph Evidence Prior to Collection Sketch & measure Evidence Location Audio & video utilization Note Taking

Evidence Collection, Packaging Transport

Observe Standard Collection Requirements (Wearing of Gloves)

Recognition Marking Evidence Marking

Place Evidence to Suitable Container Tag, Seal & Mark Prepare Evidence Chain of Custody Form Packaging Transmittal Letter 2 witness requirements

4th Phase

Fire Cause Determination

Collection of Facts/Data

Analysis of Data Develop Hypothesis Test the Hypothesis




Case Build-up

a. Photograph a. Photograph 1. Crowd 1. Crowd 2. Vehicles 2. Vehicles - make and color - make and color - speedometer reading - speedometer reading - key position - key position - plate number - plate number 3. Color of Flames and Smoke 3. Color of Flames and Smoke b. Audio, Video Utilization b. Audio, Video Utilization c. Sketch Preparation c. Sketch Preparation 1. Rough Sketch 1. Rough Sketch 2. Progression Sketch 2. Progression Sketch


a. Noting Characteristics of the Fire: a. Noting Characteristics of the Fire: 1. Rapidity of the spread of flame. 1. Rapidity of the spread of flame. 2. Color of the Smoke and Flames. 2. Color of the Smoke and Flames. 3. Identifiable Odors 3. Identifiable Odors 4. Area of origin 4. Area of origin


b. Taking Notes on the Following: b. Taking Notes on the Following: 1. 1. 2. 2. 3. 3. 4. 4. 5. 5. 6. 6. 7. 7. Unnatural state of the premises. Unnatural state of the premises. Obstacle on entry point. Obstacle on entry point. Door and window locked. Door and window locked. Fire alarm or other fire protection Fire alarm or other fire protection equipments disconnected/sabotage. equipments disconnected/sabotage. Artificial drafts by making opening. Artificial drafts by making opening. Block entrance. Block entrance. Contents of the building. Contents of the building.


c. Interview and Elicitation 1. Witnesses - Discoverer of fire 2. Fire Victims 3. Responding Firefighter as to area of origin. 4. Neighbors - Outside the Involved Building - Inside the Involved Building


1. Useful Technique Observation of the direction of spread of the flames. The fire then can be traced backward to its starting point and other observable fire pattern. a. Locate the lines or area of demarcation. The boarding defining the differences in certain heat and smoke effects of the fire upon various materials.


1. Useful Technique b. Surface effects - depth of charring, pattern of allegation: spalling and clean burn. c. Penetration of Horizontal Surfaces (patterns such as V, U, inverted V & U and saddle burn). d. Loss of Materials consumption of combustible materials/melting.


2. Interview first responding firefighters fire victims, witnesses and neighbors who can attest to some previous information.


I. Preparation A. Team Briefing 1. Materials requirement of involved members 2. Discussed search pattern use: strip double strip wheel spiral zone

I. Preparation A. Team Briefing

3. Assignment / role of individual team members. 4. Set up command post 5. Organize communication with services auxiliary. 6. Coordination with other agencies.

II. Secure and Protect the Scene

a. Determine the extent to which the scene has been protected. b. Check the adequate scene security. c. Take extensive notes, do not rely on memory.

II. Secure and Protect the Scene

d. Keep a record of persons/ individual who enters & leave. e. Established frame of minutes to take control of scene regardless of circumstances observed on arrival

III. Initiates Preliminary Survey

a. Accomplished a cautious walk through the scene. b. c. Acquire preliminary photograph. Delineate extent of the search area.

III. Initiates Preliminary Survey

d. Determine personnel and equipment needs. protect physical

e. Identify and transient evidence. f.

Develop general theory of the crime.

III. Initiates Preliminary Survey

g. Record vehicles identification number, key position and odometer reading. Concentrate on most transient evidence and work to the least transient form of physical evidence.


III. Initiates Preliminary Survey

i. Focus first on the easily accessible areas in open view and progress eventually to possible outer view locations, look for a purposively hidden items. j. Consider whether the evidence appears to have been moved inadvertently.

III. Initiates Preliminary Survey

k. Evaluate whether or not the scene and evidence appears unintentionally contrived. l. Two basic search approaches:
1. "Cautious" search of visible areas, taking steps to avoid evidence loss or contamination. 2. After the "cautious search, a vigorous search for hidden concealed areas.

IV. Depict Scene Photographically

a. Begin photography as soon as possible. b. Document the photographic effort with a photographic logbook. c. Insure that a progression of overall, medium and close-up view of the scene is establish.

IV. Depict Scene Photographically

d. Use recognize scale device for size determination when applicable. e. When scale device is used first take photograph with out the inclusion of the device. f. Photograph evidence in place before its collection and packaging.

IV. Depict Scene Photographically

g. Be observant on photographs areas adjacent to the crime scene points of entry, exits, windows. h. Photograph items, places, etc to collaborate the statement of witnesses, victims, and suspects.

IV. Depict Scene Photographically

i. Prepares photographic sketch and photo logbook. j. Do not hesitate to photograph something which has no apparent significant at that time, it may later prove to be a key element in the investigation.

V. Prepare Sketch of the Scene

The diagram establishes permanent record of items condition and distance/ size relationship - diagram photographs.

V. Prepare Sketch of the Scene

a. Typical Materials on rough sketch (not drawn to scale)
Case Identifier Location Date/Time Scale or Scale Disclaims Compass Orientation Measurements Key of Legends Sketch Preparer

V. Prepare Sketch of the Scene

b. General Progression of Sketches
Layout basic perimeter Set forth fixed objects, furniture, etc. Insert evidence as it is recovered Record appropriate measurements Set forth key/ Legends compass orientation Others

V. Prepare Sketch of the Scene

c. Number designation on sketch should be coordinated with same number designation on evidence log. d. Insure that enough room is allowed to include all pertinent information and measurement.

VI. Collect and Preserve Evidence

a. Collect evidence in accordance with standard practice. b. Use specialized search patterns (strip, double strip, zone, wheel)

VI. Collect and Preserve Evidence

c. Photograph all items before collection and enter notation in photographic logbook. d. Mark evidence location in diagram sketch.

VI. Collect and Preserve Evidence

e. Have at least 2 persons:
See evidence in place before collection; Observe it being collected; Tag zeal evidence; Place identifying marks on evidence container and document the proceeding by photograph.

f. Do not handle evidence excessively after recovery.

VI. Collect and Preserve Evidence

g. If feasible, have one person as an evidence custodian to prepare evidence chain of custody, and evidence log. h. Seal all evidence containers at the crime scene.

VI. Collect and Preserve Evidence

i. The best container for physical evidence such as debris with possible flammable accelerants is clean can, or jar and thus, evidence plastic container can do.

VI. Collect and Preserve Evidence

j. Do not forget entrance/ exit areas at the scene to obtain appropriate and substantial known standards. k. Do not over documented the physical evidence.

Collection of Liquid Samples for Accelerant Testing Liquid accelerants may be collected with a. New syringe b. Siphoning device c. Evidence container itself d. Sterilize cotton balls or gauge pads may also be used to absorbed the liquid

Where liquid accelerants are believed to have become trapped in porous materials such as concrete floor

a. Lime b. Diatomaceous earth c. flour

Collection of liquid evidence absorbed by solid materials including soils and sand a. b. c. d. Scooping Sawing Scraping Core drilling

Collecting of Solid samples for accelerant testing

Solid accelerant may be common household materials and compounds or dangerous chemicals. When collecting solid accelerants: The fire investigator must ensure that the solid accelerant is maintained in physical state in which is found Some incendiary materials remain Corrosive and Reactive Ensure the corrosive nature of these residue does not attack the packaging container


b. c.

Collection of Gaseous samples.

a. b. Method of Collection: Use of commercially available mechanical sampling device Utilization evacuated air sampling cans. These cans are specifically designed for taking gaseous samples Use of clean glass bottled filled with distilled water. Distilled water use as it has had most of the impurities removed from it. This method simply require the investigator poured the distilled water out of its bottle in the atmosphere to be sampled. As distilled water leaves the bottle it is replaced by the gaseous sample


Guide on Interpreting the Damage on Electrical Wire

1 2

Collection of Electrical Equipments and Components

Before wires are cut, a photograph should be taken of the wires, and the both ends of the wire should be tagged and cut so that they can be identified as one of the following: The device or appliance to which it was attached or from which it was severed The circuit breaker or fuse number or location to which the wire was attached or from which it was severed The wires path or the route it took between the device and the circuit protector Electrical switches, receptacles, thermostats, relays, junction boxes, electrical distribution panels, and similar equipment and components are often collected as physical evidence. a. b. c.












VII. Conduct Final Survey

a. This survey is a critical review of all aspects of the search. b. Double check documentation to detect inadvertent errors. c. Insure that photographs are taken of scene showing final condition after completion of search.

VII. Conduct Final Survey

d. Check to insure all evidence is accounted far before departing scene. e. Release of the fire scene is accomplished only after completion of the final survey. f. Secure affidavit that no looting/ lost cause by responding firefighters.


If you want to catch an arsonist and solve a crime