What is fire "cause & origin"?
Fire cause & origin determination is a branch of what we call causation forensics, and is the applied science of finding out where, how, and why a fire has occurred. It also very often involves an analysis of a fire's effects and damages on property and life. By carefully observing - and accurately interpreting - smoke, heat, and fire effects on combustibles and other materials like metals, a fire cause specialist is guided to what is known as the "area of origin" of a fire.

Within this area the fire began, and the specialist then sorts through it in search of potential ignition sources, examining each closely. Once all the potential ignition sources are found, the weeding out process begins and - as the others are ruled out - an ignition source which best fits the fire's circumstances is eventually identified as the most likely cause of the fire. This methodology applies to just about any fire scene, whether it be in a car, a boat, a house, or a factory.

Isn't determining a fire cause the fire department's job?
The fire department has a lot of responsibilities, and determining a general fire cause is usually one of them. But although firefighters are trained in fighting fires, few fire departments have the resources for training their personnel in chemistry, electricity, and other technical aspects of fire causation. In addition, a legal line is being drawn between fire causes of criminal interest and of civil interest which limits the scope of their investigations.

If the fire was intentional, the public fire official must prove a crime was committed, but only rarely are criminal charges actually filed - 84% of arson cases typically remain unsolved on a yearly basis.

Who else investigates fires?
Fire experts also include private specialists who determine the origin and cause of fires. These forensic specialists are usually independent contractors with an engineering or engineering-related background who analyze fires or a fire's affects for insurance companies, attorneys, private individuals and companies. Their origin and cause determinations are typically conducted with the cooperation of the local fire department and municipal investigators. The independent fire investigator's focus is technical in nature and more detail-oriented, and is especially useful for potential "subrogation" cases and fires of a technical nature (electrical failures, for example).

Next Page


ABOUT FACTS           FIRE LINKS & ARTICLES