Firefighting, Legal

The Geometry of Fire Investigation: Interpreting Fire Patterns

Issue 1 and Volume 169.

By DOUG LEIHBACHER Fire investigation methodology is described in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations. It requires a systematic approach to determining fire origin and cause. The fire investigator must keep an open mind and follow the scientific method before drawing any conclusions about the fire cause. One of the primary tenets of this systematic method, not to mention common sense, states that, first, it is necessary to determine where the fire originated before it is possible to accurately determine what caused it. If the investigator is looking in the wrong area, he will make a faulty cause determination. The various marks and patterns permanently imprinted on the structure and contents by the smoke, heat, and fire point the observant fire investigator in the direction of area of fire origin. When interpreted properly, these burn patterns allow the investigator to trace the path of…

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