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Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation, Second Edition

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Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation, Second Edition

This book focuses on the practical application of scientific principles to determine the causes of fires.

By John Lentini,

ISBN: 9781439875988

Retail price: $159.95   $114.95



  • Focuses on the investigation of residential, commercial, and industrial structures
  • Explains how to approach a fire scene
  • Examines the central scientific concepts necessary to determine the cause of a fire
  • Uses real cases to illustrate concepts
  • Demonstrates how to effectively present the results of an investigation



Knowledge of the science behind fires is critical to understanding a fire’s cause and successfully presenting that determination to the authorities or in litigation. Now in its second edition, Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation focuses on the practical application of scientific principles to determine the causes of fires. Uniquely qualified with years of experience in on-site investigations, lab analyses, and courtroom presentation, the author provides a resource that is unparalleled in depth and focus.

The book explores:

  • The history of fire investigation and the basic chemistry and physics of fire
  • The science of fire dynamics—how things burn and how they interact with their surroundings while doing so
  • Practical procedures for conducting fire scene inspections
  • Laboratory examination of fire debris to test for the presence of ignitable liquid residues and for potential ignition sources
  • Relevant scientific principles as applied to 30 actual fires
  • The evolution of the mythology of arson investigation
  • The common root causes of errors in fire investigation

The final chapter discusses the professional practice of fire investigation. It examines quality assurance, business practices, and the fundamentals of being an expert witness, with advice for giving testimony in depositions and at trial. Other highlights of the second edition include new and expanded discussions on novel training methods, first assumptions, computer fire modeling, low voltage ignition sources, the questionable validity of some origin determinations, and recent changes in NFPA 921.

Thorough and accessible, this volume not only provides the practical information necessary to conduct an effective inquiry but also offers insight into the science, history, and theory behind what makes fire investigation a multi-faceted profession.


Table of Contents


Fire and Science
Argument versus Experiment
Fire and the Enlightenment
Scientific Approach to Fire Investigation
Modern Fire Analysis
NFPA 921
NFPA 1033
Science, Law, and Law Enforcement
Chemistry and Physics of Combustion
Fire and Energy
Basic Chemistry
States of Matter
Behavior of Gases
Stoichiometry and Flammable Limits
Behavior of Liquids
Behavior of Solids
Fire Dynamics and Fire Pattern Development
Self-Heating and Spontaneous Ignition
Chemical Ignition
Smoldering Ignition
Compartment Fires
Plume Pattern Development
Ventilation Pattern Development
Penetrations through Floors
Horizons, Movement, and Intensity Patterns
Clean Burn
Electrical Patterns
Fire Modeling
Fire Investigation Procedures
Recognize the Need
Presumption of Accidental Cause: The Null Hypothesis
Negative Corpus Methodology
Planning the Investigation
Initial Survey: Safety First
Avoiding Spoliation
Origin Determination
Evidence Collection and Preservation
Fatal Fires
Hypothesis Development and Testing
Reporting Procedure
Record Keeping
Analysis of Ignitable Liquid Residues
Evolution of Separation Techniques
Evolution of Analytical Techniques
Evolution of Standard Methods
Isolating the Residue
Initial Sample Evaluation
ILR Isolation Method Selection
Solvent Selection
Internal Standards
Advantages and Disadvantages of Isolation Methods
Analyzing Isolated ILR
Criteria for Identification
Improving Sensitivity
Estimating the Degree of Evaporation
Identity of Source
Reporting Procedures
Record Keeping
Quality Assurance
Evaluation of Ignition Sources
Joint Examinations of Physical Evidence
Appliances and Electrical Components
Electronic Device Reliability and Failure Modes
Kitchen Ranges
Coffee Makers
Deep Fat Fryers
Space Heating Appliances
Water Heaters
Clothes Dryers
Fluorescent Lights
Recessed Lights
Exhaust Fans
Service Panels
Oxygen Enrichment Devices
Testing of Ignition Scenarios
Spontaneous Ignition Tests
Following Up
Thirty Fire Scene Scenarios
Arson Fire #1: The Fictitious Burglar
Arson Fire #2: Unexplained Accelerants
Arson Fire #3: Unpleasant Neighbors
Arson Fire #4: Accidental Causes Eliminated
Dryer Fires
Dryer Fire #1: Misrouted Power Cord
Dryer Fire #2: Cross-Threaded Connection
Dryer Fire #3: Spliced Power Cord
Dryer Fire #4: Internal Power Wire Comes Loose
Electrical Fires
Electrical Fire #1: Energized Neutral
Electrical Fire #2: Worn-Out Outlet
Electrical Fire #3: Makeshift Extension Cord
Electrical Fire #4: Failed Transformer
Electrical Fire #5: Overdriven Staple
Fluorescent Light Fires
Fluorescent Light Fire #1: Ballast Failure
Fluorescent Light Fire #2: Overheated Lamp Holder
Gas Fires
Gas Fire #1: Leak in Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing Line (and Failure to Inspect)
Gas Fire #2: Leak at New Flare Fitting
Gas Fire #3: Overfilled Cylinders
Gas Fire #4: New Installation, Open Line
Heater Fires
Heater Fire #1: Combustibles on Floor Furnace
Heater Fire #2: Portable Heater Ignites Cardboard
Heater Fire #3: Contents Stacked in Front of Heater
Industrial Fires
Industrial Fire #1: Machine Shop Spray Booth
Industrial Fire #2: Waste Accumulations on Roof
Industrial Fire #3: Design Flaw in Printing Machine
Industrial Fire #4: Hydraulic Fluid Fire
Industrial Fire #5: Another Chicken Story
Lightning Fires
Lightning Fire #1
Lightning Fire #2
Water Heaters
Water Heater Fire #1
The Mythology of Arson Investigation
Development and Promulgation of Myths
Crazed Glass
Depth and Location of Char
Lines of Demarcation
Sagged Furniture Springs
Fire Load
Low Burning and Holes in the Floor
Angle of V
Time and Temperature
Sources of Error in Fire Investigation
Overlooking Critical Data
Misinterpreting Critical Data
Misinterpreting Irrelevant Data
Ignoring Inconsistent Data
Two-Dimensional Thinking
Poor Communication
Faulty Chemistry or Engineering
Evaluating Allegations of Arson
Is This Arson Call Based Entirely on the Appearance of the Burned Floor in a Fully Involved Compartment?
Is This Arson Call Based on "Low Burning," OR Crazed Glass, OR Spalling, OR "Shiny Alligatoring," OR a "Narrow V-Pattern," OR "Melted/Annealed Metal?"
Is This Arson Call Based on an Unconfirmed Canine Alert?
Is This Arson Call Based on a Fire that "Burned Hotter than Normal" or "Faster than Normal?"
Do Neutral Eyewitnesses Place the Origin of the Fire Somewhere Other than Where the Arson Investigator Says It Was Set?
Is This Arson Call Based Entirely or Largely on a Mathematical Equation or a Computer Model?
Investigations Gone Wrong
State of Georgia v. Weldon Wayne Carr
Maynard Clark v. Auto Owners Insurance Company
Error Analysis
United States v. Kenneth and Ricky Daniels and Daniels v. Liberty Mutual, et al.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Louis DiNicola
State of Arizona v. Ray Girdler
Hanley v. Prudential Insurance
Howell Business Forms v. Vik Brothers Insurance Group
Eve and Manson Johnson v. Florida Farm Bureau
State of Georgia v. John Metcalf and Kimberly Post
State of North Carolina v. Jermaine Antoine Smith
United States v. Michael Weber
Stark County Port Authority v. Railway Properties, Ltd.
State of Louisiana v. Amanda Gutweiler
The Professional Practice of Fire Investigation
Identifying Your Stakeholders
Doing Consistent Work
Business Practices
Pro Bono Work
Serving as Expert Witness
Courtroom Testimony

Published:  September 2012


Pages:  646