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Fire Investigation

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  1. Fire Investigation Forensic Science

  2. A case of Arson • Read about the fire at the Happy Land Social Club • What were the materials that created the fire? • Why was this fire so deadly?

  3. US Fire Data - 2011 NFPA

  4. Interpreting Data • US Fire Data – 2011 • Why are graphs used with data? • Why was the type of graph chosen? • Circle; Line; Bar • Examples: What does each graph tell us?

  5. What conclusions can be made?

  6. US Fire Data – 1977 – 2011Conclusions?

  7. US Fire Data – 2011Conclusions?

  8. Interpreting data • Forensic Science • Often uses graphs to help people understand the data and conclusions • Develop conclusions based on the data • Deaths, Injuries, Property Damage • Accidental vs. Intentional • Graph the data to support your conclusions • Support your choice for the type of graph

  9. How does a fire Burn?

  10. Chemistry of Fire • What is needed for a fire? • Combustible material (fuel) • Oxygen • Accelerant = material to start or maintain a fire • Activation energy = heat required to start a chemical reaction Fuel + O₂ + activation energy ⇛

  11. Chemistry of Fire • What is produced by a fire? • Why can it be so destructive? • Heat • Carbon dioxide • Water vapor • Incomplete combustion products • Fuel + O₂ ⇛ Heat + CO₂ + H₂O + incomplete combustion products

  12. Heat in reactions • Exothermic reactions • Reactions that result in the release of heat energy • Endothermic reactions • Reactions that absorb heat or require heat to be added

  13. Components needed to start and keep a fire going How do you interpret the diagram?

  14. Requirements for Combustion • A fuel must be present • Oxygen must be available in sufficient quantity • Heat must be applied to initiate combustion, and sufficient heat must be generated to sustain the reaction. • Chain reaction: Conditions must be capable of sustaining a flaming fire. Fuel, oxygen and heat

  15. What is burning in a fire? Wood fire Charcoal fire Wood and charcoal are non-flammable What burns? Why do fires burn differently?

  16. Factors for burning Fuel + O₂ ⇛ Heat + CO₂ + H₂O To react with oxygen, most accelerants must be in the gaseous state. • Terms • Accelerant = material to start or maintain a fire • Flash Point = lowest temperature where there is enough heat to change from liquid to gas • Ignition Temperature = temperature that allows a fuel to burn and continue burning • Heat of combustion – heat generated in a combustion reaction

  17. Interpreting the table • Comparing fuels (accelerants) • Which will be the easiest to ignite?

  18. 5 Conduction • Heat transferred from one molecule to another (direct contact) • Conductors transfer heat well. • Example: Metal • Insulators do not transfer heat well. • Example: Fiberglass

  19. 5 Convection • Movement of heat through a fluid medium such as air or a liquid • Creates convection currents

  20. 5 Convection within a Room • Hot gases rise, then travel horizontally. • Gases then bank down a wall or move outside the room. • Horizontally • Vertically

  21. 5 Radiation • Transfer of heat in the form of an invisible wave • Heat radiated to a nearby structure can ignite it. • Radiated heat passing through a window can ignite an object.

  22. Important Terms • Combustible • Non-flammable • Accelerant • Exothermic • Heat • Flash point • Ignition Temperature • Heat of combustion • Vaporization • Solid/liquid/gas • Pyrolysis • Arson • Hydrocarbon • Conduction • Radiation • Convection

  23. Function of Fire Investigation • Fire category • Point of origin • Pattern of fire spread

  24. Difficult to Analyze Arson • These crimes are carried out at the convenience of the perpetrator and are often "well-planned" to hide crucial evidences • Inability to collect crucial/useful evidence due to the accompanied destruction of the crime scene (iii) volatile evidences are hard to collect and preserve.

  25. The Fire Scene Investigation • Starts as soon as the fire has been extinguished. • Most arsons are started with petroleum-based accelerants. • Does not require a search warrant. • Focus on finding the fire’s origin ARSON

  26. Review • Three basic factors required for combustion: • Fuel • Oxygen • Heat • Chemical chain reactions keep the fire burning.

  27. Arson = intentional fires

  28. Fire Investigation Basics • Work from the least damaged areas to the most heavily damaged areas. • Document with notes, photographs, and videos. • Collect evidence (accelerant samples, fire items, and other crime scene evidence.) • Interview witnesses • Determine the point of origin. • Determine the heat source(s). • Hypothesize the reasons for the fire.

  29. Havana – Laurel StreetPractice Burn Photographs What clues might a fire investigator gain from this photograph? Photos provided by Brock Brooks & the Havana Fire Department

  30. Havana – Laurel StreetPractice Burn Photographs Photos provided by Brock Brooks & the Havana Fire Department

  31. Fire fighters look on as the fire spreads across a room. The house is nearly completely consumed. Practice Burn Photographs A fire started in the kitchen area does not take long before it is a ball of flame reaching quickly to the ceiling. Fires can easily double in size every 60 seconds, meaning there is little time to extinguish a fire before escape should be your primary goal if trapped. Source:

  32. Image: Havana Rural Fire Department Accident or Arson? • Accidental Nature • Heating System • Electrical appliances • Lightning • Children playing with matches • Smoking • Non-Accident • Odors – Gas, kerosene, or other accelerants • Furnishing – Removal of personal objects and valuables • Clothing – Check debris for buttons, zippers, etc • Locked windows, blocked doors • Two or more points of origin • Look for inverted v-patterns (can be a sign that an accelerant was used) • Floors charred –Can indicate use of an accelerant • Trailers (streamers) that lead the fire from one place to another

  33. Fire Clues • Point of Origin –Location where the fire started. • Char Patterns –

  34. Fire Clues • Point of Origin – Burn patterns and other damage can help determine the point of origin, or the location where the fire started. • Char Patterns – Created by very hot fires that burn very quickly and move fast along its path, so that there can be sharp lines between what is burned and what isn't. • A char pattern on a door would help an investigator determine which side of the door the fire was on. • A char pattern on the floor would help investigators determine the use of an accelerant and its path. • V-Patterns - Fire burns up, in a V-shaped pattern, so a fire that starts at an outlet against a wall leaves a char pattern that points to the origin. • A very narrow V-shape might indicate a fire that was hotter than normal, such as one helped along by an accelerant. • A wide V-shape might indicate a fire that was slow burning. • A U-shape could indicate that there was a "pool of origin" rather than a point of origin, such as might be caused by, say, a puddle of gasoline.

  35. Heat Shadows - Occur when heavy furniture shields part of a wall; can help determine the origin point. • Glass - Glass fragments, windows, and light bulbs can provide clues to a fire. • Light bulbs tend to melt toward the heat source, so the "direction of melt" can indicate the direction of the fire. • The shattered or cracked glass of the windows can provide indications as to how a fire burned. • A dark soot layer on the glass could indicate a slow, smoldering fire. • Clear glass with an abnormal pattern of cracking could imply a very hot fire, possibly due to an accelerant. • Chimney Effect - Since fire burns upwards, there can be a "chimney effect" where the fire ignites at a point, the superheated gases rise upward and form a fireball, which continues straight up to burn a hole in the ceiling. If the roof is not entirely burnt, and the fire investigator finds such a hole, the origin of the fire could be directly underneath. • Color of smoke – Determine what type material was burning  • Color of flames – Indicates at what temperature the fire was burning.

  36. Death by Arson In this lesson, students will examine evidence used in a 1994 case to convict Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed for the arson & murder of his three young daughters. Students will also review a later study that re-examined the evidence and determined that arson was not involved. Finally, students will judge for themselves whether or not the state proved its case against Willingham.

  37. Class procedures • Review terms • Watch video segments • Complete questions • Prepare for discussion • In teams: develop an argument which is pro or con the state’s case

  38. The State’s Case • Frontline video (Chapter 2) • Complete worksheet & prepare for the discussion.

  39. RE-Examining the Evidence • Frontline – (Chapter 5)

  40. Analyzing the Case • In groups of 3: • Compare and contrast the evidence • Argument: Did the state prove its case? • Pro: list supporting factors • Against: list negative factors • Team states their position & alternative position (s) • Explains why position was chosen • Write on White Boards • Gallery Walk

  41. Analyzing the Case