Fire and Explosion Investigation
National Academy of Sciences Report - See pp. 170-173 for the National Research Counsel's assessment of the analysis of explosives evidence and fire debris
Technical Working Group for Fire and Explosions - The mission of TWGFEX is to establish and maintain nationally-accepted programs for the forensic investigation of fire, arson, and explosion scenes and devices.
A Guide for Investigating Fire and Arson - this 2009 NIJ publication describes recommended practices for the collection and preservation of evidence at fire scenes. This guide may provide areas of cross examination in cases where the recommended policies were not followed.
Fire and Arson Scene Evidence: A Guide for Public Safety Personnel - 2000 NIJ publication written and approved by the Technical Working Group on Fire/Arson Scene Investigation. Includes recommendations about preserving the scene, interviewing witnesses, documentation, and evidence processing.
- NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, 2011 ed. - the National Fire Protection Association publishes this manual which is the standard of care in fire investigation. This guide can be viewed for free on the NFPA website which is an excellent way to become familiar with the standards; however, if you wish to download or print it, you must purchase a copy. Email Sarah Rackley Olson if you would like to borrow a copy from the NCIDS Forensics Library or if you need a list of cases where this manual was accepted by courts as the standard of care. The Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) for Forensic Science approved the NFPA for inclusion in the OSAC Registry in 2016. The OSAC Registry serves as a trusted repository of high-quality, science-based standards and guidelines for forensic practice.
- Forensic Investigation Techniques for Inspecting Electrical Conductors Involved in Fire - 2012 DOJ publication by Richard J. Roby, Ph.D. and Jamie McAllister, Ph.D. that looks at the physical characteristics of energized and non-energized wires subjected to various types of fire exposures.
- Reducing Uncertainty of Quantifying the Burning Rate of Upholstered Furniture - 2012 DOJ publication by Marc L. Janssens that investigates how to estimate the burning rate of upholstered furniture and how to express the uncertainty of this prediction.
- Spontaneous Ignition in Fire Investigation - 2012 DOJ publication by James G. Quintiere, Justin T. Warden, Stephen M. Tamburello, and Thomas E. Minnich that addresses the principles of spontaneous ignition and its potential role as the cause and origin of a fire.
- Thermal Properties Database - 2012 DOJ publication by Arnaud Trouve’ and Thomas Minnich. This publication explains the Burning Item Database which describes the burning characteristics of common household and office items.
- Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation - 2006 book by John Lentini on appropriate techniques for fire scene investigations and chemical analysis of fire debris. Highlights frequent errors in fire investigation, the history of fire investigation and how the profession has evolved.
- Death by Fire - this Frontline documentary investigates the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man who was executed in Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting the fire that killed his three young daughters. Prior to his execution, reports were submitted to Texas officials raising serious doubts about the science used to determine that the fire was arson.
- USFA Fire Burn Pattern Tests - this 1997 study by FEMA and the US Fire Administration found that ventilation and flashover may change or move patterns making correct interpretation of the pattern more difficult. Flashover was found in a majority of test fires and did obscure patterns including patterns from ignitable liquids.
- Recent news articles - this page contains links to recent press coverage of local and national cases involving allegations of arson and is updated regularly.
- Forensic Fire Scene Examination - What it Tells Us, and What it Doesn't - this article by Paul Bieber appeared in the 2013 CACJ publication. Bieber looks at the reliability of fire investigation and the validity of techniques including identification of the area or areas of origin.
- Spark of Truth: Can Science Bring Justice to Arson Trials? by Douglas Starr, Discover Magazine. This October 2011 article explains how the science of fire investigation has evolved in recent years and discusses why certain findings that have traditionally been interpreted as evidence of arson have been debunked. This article is an excellent reference for attorneys who are seeking additional information about fire investigation or are issue-spotting in their cases.
- Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man? by David Grann, The New Yorker. This article provides and in depth investigation of the flaws in the Cameron Todd Willingham case.
- Habeas Relief From Bad Science: Does Federal Habeas Corpus Provide Relief for Prisoners Possibly Convicted on Misunderstood Fire Science? by Marc Price Wolf, Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Techology (2009). Describes the shift in methodology and foundational principles that the field of fire investigation has undergone recently and discusses how habeas corpus relief can be utilized in arson cases.
- Measuring the Impact of Cognitive Bias in Fire Investigation - this 2012 report by Paul Bieber of the Arson Research Project finds that cognitive bias is found in the field of fire investigation. Makes recommendations for how to minimize these biases.
Additional Online Resources
- The Arson Research Project - this criminal justice research project has a mission of examining the reliablity of evidence used in the investigation and prosecution of arson and identifying convictions obtained based on unreliable evidence. There is a 90-minute webinar on fire scene examination on the website as well as links to articles and court opinions.
- Ignitable Liquids Reference Collection Database - the National Center for Forensic Science at the University of Central Florida has tested over 600 commercial products and compiled information about their molecular composition in an online database. Samples from a fire investigation can be compared with this reference collection to identify evidence collected from the fire scene.
- Scientific Fire Analysis - website posted by John Lentini which contains links to recent articles published on fire investigation.
- International Association of Arson Investigators, Inc. is an association of more than 5,000 fire investigation professionals. The website has some information about trainings and standards, but most of the material is available only to members.
- NC International Association of Arson Investigators, Inc. is the NC chapter of the IAAI. Find information about relevant NC case law, local training, and membership.
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives - Arson & Explosives Enforcement - the federal agency responsible for administering and enforcing the criminal and regulatory provisions of Federal laws pertaining to explosives and arson. Information on accelerant detection canines and certifications for law enforcement officers.
- InterFire.org - this website has several online training modules which give introductory information, but should not replace in depth research of the issues.
- United States v. Hebshie, 754 F.Supp. 2d 89 (2010). This opinion by Judge Nancy Gertner is a must-read regarding standards of representation in arson cases. The opinion provides useful information on Daubert hearings, cause and origin testimony, burn patterns, canine evidence and laboratory analysis.
- Conference of District Attorneys case law - this is the NC Conference of District Attorneys' compilation of arson case law. This list should not be considered comprehensive and the holdings have been summarized by the Conference of District Attorneys, but it gives an idea of what cases the State may cite.
- If any of these findings were used to identify arson in your case, you should conduct further research and investigation: pour patterns, crazed glass, melted metal thresholds, burn marks under doorways, chipping of concrete, alligatoring or blistering of burned wood, or the point of origin being where the most damage occurred. The Discover Magazine article, Seven Myths About Arson, explains why these phenomena are frequently misinterpreted.
- Records to collect: 911, police, firefighters, state fire marshal and dog, public water works, insurance agent, insurance investigator, claims adjuster, EMT, wrecker driver, landfill operator, store records from purchase of accelerant, etc.
- Motions to file: Motion to Suppress (search warrant issue?), Motion to Preserve all Physical Evidence, Motion to Preserve to Preserve the Fire Scene.
- Visit the database of experts to find the contact information for experts in this field.