Motives for arson can range from attempts to collect insurance money to revenge or intimidation, attempts to cover up a crime, destruction of questionable business records, Pyromania and occasionally suicide. The most common type of Arson is a fire set in an attempt to collect insurance money.
Arson investigation starts with the fire itself. To create and sustain a fire three factors must be present. The three factors are known as the fire triangle. The fire triangle consists of oxygen, a fuel source, and heat. In most cases the percentage of oxygen concentration must be above 16%. The fuel may be any flammable substance. The heat source needs only to match the ignition temperature of the fuel.
In a fire involving arson the arsonist will have tampered with one or more of the factors in the fire triangle. The arsonist may increase the fuel load by introducing flammable material or by adding accelerants such as kerosene, gasoline or alcohol . The arsonist may increase the oxygen content of a structure by opening windows or punching holes in ceilings and walls. Fire will follow the highest concentration of oxygen to its source. By ventilating a structure at the top and starting a fire at the bottom of the structure an arsonist can cause the fire to race upward through the structure. The fire will rapidly involve the whole structure rather than be confined to one room. By definition a fire is considered an arson fire when all other accidental caused have been ruled out. To say that the cause of a fire was arson and therefore deliberate, the investigator must have sufficient evidence that one of the factors in the fire triangle was tampered with.
Arson investigations start with the observations of the fire fighters who respond to the scene. There may be obvious signs of arson such as multiple points of origin or the presence of accelerants. What ever it is that raises the suspicions of the fire fighters at the scene it is their observations that initiate an arson investigation. In an investigation of a fire where arson is suspected the investigator starts the interviewing of witnesses and fire fighters immediately.
1-What was the color of the smoke? Gasoline produces a yellow or white flame with black smoke. Wood produces a yellow or red flame and grey or brown smoke. If a burning wooden house is producing thick black smoke this could indicate the presence of gasoline. A large amount of gasoline being stored in a house is unusual and raises the suspicion that gasoline was used as an accelerant.
2-Were there inoperative hydrants, standpipes alarm systems or sprinkler systems? If there were, the investigator will direct plumbing and other trade experts to examine the systems for signs of damage
3-What was the condition of the doors and windows? Signs of forced entry can indicate an actual a “break and enter” crime or indicate a staged scene. Doors and windows propped open could indicate an attempt to ventilate the building allowing the fire to spread through out the structure. Doors and windows that have to be forced open could indicate an attempt to hinder the fire fighters. Doors and windows that have been blocked out could indicate an attempt to conceal the fire until it is fully involved.
4-Was there anything strange about the way the fire was burning? Rapid spread of a fire can indicate the use of accelerants. Multiple points of origin, flashes and explosions can also indicate accelerants or incendiary devices.
5-Were there any familiar faces at the scene? It is possible that the fire fighters have seen the same person in the crowd at several fires. Some arsonists like to watch the fire or help the firefighters. If the fire fighters do notice the same person at several suspicious fires the investigator must try to interview this person as so as.
6-Did the structure contain business equipment or household items normally expected to be present? The absence of normal household items or business equipment can indicate that they were removed before the fire started. Removal of these items can indicate that the fire was planned. Removal of sentimental items such as baby pictures, school records and valuables can indicate a planned fire. Evidence of pre-planning a fire gives the investigator excellent proof of intent to commit arson.
7-Interview any witnesses present when the fire started. The investigator must interview the person who called in the fire immediately even before the fire is extinguished and the physical evidence is processed. The person that called in the fire may be able to supply the investigator with information such as the color of the smoke and the time that the fire started. The witnesses may have seen people fleeing the scene. The witnesses may have also noticed the smell of accelerants or heard explosions.
8-Any television stations or newspaper reporters at the scene will also be interviewed. They will be asked to provide copies of video footage or photographs of the scene
9-The insurance agent who wrote the policy. Looking for evidence of over insured property or recent changes to the policy. The insurance agent may also recall recent questions about the policy the assured may have asked.
10- We may choose to hire a forensic accountant to study bank records, business records and tax returns. A certified document examiner may be used to examine business records and documents that may have been altered.
11-The ownership of the property in question will be established through the mortgage records. As well, liens and caveats against the property will be established through mortgage records A background check of the owner of the property will be conducted. Looking for signs possible of hidden debt that would indicate motive. Possible signs of hidden debt include a history of gambling, alcohol abuse and recent divorces. Multiple requests for credit checks will show that the person in question may have been shopping around for credit.
At this point Liar Catchers will gather our data collected and present to the hiring client on our observations, data collection and results of the entire investigation.
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