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Findings Clues in a Fire: Knowing the Rules of Arson Investigation

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 32 Issue: 5 Dated: May 2005 Pages: 60,62,67
Kathy Steck-Flynn
Date Published
May 2005
7 pages
After presenting general procedures to follow in investigating the origin of a fire, this article describes steps in the investigation of a fire in which insurance fraud is suspected.
In the investigation of the origin of a fire, it is essential to interview the firefighters who first arrived at the scene and those who fought the fire. The first firefighters on the scene may have noticed evidence that may not exist by the time the fire has been extinguished. Significant issues to explore with these firefighters are the color of the smoke; the presence of inoperative hydrants, standpipes, alarm systems, or sprinkler systems; any indication of forced entry; any strange burning patterns; any familiar faces at the scene; and whether the structure contained business equipment or household items normally expected to be present. Investigators should also interview witnesses at the scene, including the person who called in the fire and media reporters at the scene. The investigator must also conduct a thorough investigation into the insurance policy holder's background and finances. This article details the components of such an investigation when insurance fraud is examined as a motive for possible arson. Establishing financial motive through insurance fraud, however, is not sufficient to make an arson case, there must also be sufficient evidence that the fire was caused by arson. This means ruling out all accidental causes of the fire and then looking for signs that some type of accelerant and/or external heat or fire source was applied to combustible material in the building. Ways of detecting evidence of intentional firesetting are discussed.