A Fatal Fire Investigation: The Medical Perspective

Issue 3 and Volume 160.

BY JOHN NICHOLS, ROBERT IRWIN, AND MARK MERLIN According to the United States Fire Administration, the United States has one of the highest fire death rates in the world.1 The National Fire Protection Association has reported that between 3,145 and 3,720 people per year died in the 14-year period preceding 2003. In 2003, there were 3,385 civilian deaths in structure fires; 305 of those civilians, or 9 percent, died in fires that were ruled to be intentionally set.2 Based on these disturbing figures, every fire investigator should be prepared to examine a fire scene in which there has been a loss of life. To complicate this matter, research suggests that arson is the leading cause of fire in the United States;3 therefore, the fatal fire must be viewed as an investigation for the criminal acts of arson and homicide. The investigator must take due care and caution to ensure that…

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