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Fire Debris Analysis

NCJ Number
Date Published
4 pages
Capillary gas chromatography is the method of choice for analyzing suspected arson samples from fire debris, and the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) has developed standard test procedures for analyzing arson samples.
The relevant ASTM standard is E1387, Standard Test Method for Flammable or Combustible Liquid Residues in Extracts from Samples of Fire Debris by Gas Chromatography. As with all analytical procedures, sample collection, preservation, chain of custody, and sample preparation using this standard play crucial roles in the analysis process. Appropriate capillary column selection is the first decision the analyst must make. Several different stationary phases and column configurations can provide the resolution needed. After establishing the correct conditions to obtain complete resolution of test mix components, the analyst must then calibrate the instrument. In fire debris analysis, this involves purchase and preparation of common accelerants used to ignite fires with subsequent injection into the gas chromatograph. Many factors will change the chromatographic pattern obtained from fire debris, and the analyst must consider the following basic classes of complex petroleum distillates normally identified in arson samples: light petroleum, gasoline, medium petroleum distillates, kerosene, and heavy petroleum distillates. Additional variables that can make the identification of petroleum residue difficult are noted. 1 reference, 2 tables, and 3 figures