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Arson Investigation

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Arson Investigation


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            Arson is the intentional act of setting fire to a car, building, or other property for malicious or fraudulent purposes, and is considered a crime in all States. It is a violent crime that is responsible for hundreds of deaths every year. Arson is the second most leading cause of residential death in the country, but unfortunately, most arson cases today are rarely solved. In the United States, detection rate for arson is exceptionally low when compared to other natures of crimes (Hopkins, 2009, p.

78). Arson is one of most multifaceted crimes to prove in the court of law, and in prosecuting an arsonist, groundwork investigation of the case plays an exceptionally significant role.     

Investigation of Arson

            Explosions and fires present little information in developing an arson investigation, given that available information is usually circumstantial. The widespread damage at the fire scene renders majority of the evidences unusable or unidentifiable. Nevertheless, investigators will generally take note of the following details: unidentified or unusual persons in the crime scene; out of the ordinary activities around the crime scene prior to the fire; the person who reported the fire; the person who discovered the fire; the extent of the fire upon discovery; and the time when the fire was initially discovered (Becker, 2008, p.


The difference between a fire deliberately set and an accidental fire are characteristically difficult to spot, and the persons traditionally responsible for investigating this are the fire fighters. However, time has revealed that equipment, experience, and specialized skill are necessary to accomplish an effective arson investigation, prompting numerous fire departments to take action on one of two things: (1) train fire fighters as arson investigators having law enforcement authority; or (2) report alleged arson to the law enforcement for examination (Becker, 2008, p.385).

Accordingly, the arson investigators have gained knowledge of detecting arson just by looking at certain signs of arson, such as: (1) the breaking to pieces off of the outer surface of concrete or brick; (2) the presence of an accelerant may indicate the presence of demarcation line between charred and those not charred material; (3) the intensity of charring puts in the picture a great deal about the origin of fire and the length of the flame; (4) the formation of unequal cracks in glass; and, (5) checkered outer surface of burnt wood (Axelrod, & Antinozzi, 2002, p.180).

Every arson investigation focuses on the point of origin of the fire, what caused it to burst into flames, and whether a combustible material was employed to the scene to make the fire hotter or burn faster (Harmon, 2008, p.22). The investigation must start immediately as possible following the report of fire and, if at all possible, while the area is still on fire. The fire itself may present significant information regarding its origin and nature (Becker, 2008, p.387). The direction where the fire travels is also helpful in establishing its starting point, and arson should be presumed if there are several fires spread out over a burning building.

In seeking the cause of a fire, forensic specialists are capable of detecting traces of substance that arsonists assumed to have completely destroyed in the fire. Arsonists that are careless or in a hurry normally leave behind traces of the substance they employed to initiate a fire. Perceptive of this fact, investigators cautiously gather samples of remains around the fire scene. Scorched materials and any suspicious liquid deposits or stains are normally turned over to the crime laboratory for examination. Chemical analysis can detect the presence of accelerants as well as distinguish their variety. These accelerants used to start the fire produce noticeable smoke coloring and odors (Becker, 2008, p.387). However, by merely relying on available facts, an investigator can only put together a circumstantial case in most situations.

            Relatively usual in an arson fire, a suspect is readily obvious, but the trouble is in linking the latter to the crime (Brown, 2001, p.257). In producing an excellent arson case, it is necessary for the investigators to get hold of all possible evidences, not only those found within the fire scene but also those found in building records, such as insurance records, which indicate when the structure was insured and for how much. Examination of building records may point out who has motives to burn the building, whether the structure was condemned, whether any structural violations were implicated, or if it was in poor condition. In determining who has motives in causing the fire, it is significant for investigators to initially determine who presented the insurance claim and who the beneficiary of the insurance policy is. In addition, mortgage records may give investigators an idea if the owner made any false statements about the value or ownership of the property.


            Arson is the malicious and willful burning of personal or real property of another or oneself. It is particularly inhuman crime which brings about horrifying injury and suffering to the victims. It has great impact on the property and lives of the victims, even after many years since the occurrence. Accordingly, in order to provide victims with explanation, arson investigators search for traces of flammable devices or materials, as well as study the scene of the fire in order to gain knowledge of where the fire started and how it spread. Their comprehensive understanding of fire causes and types allows them to re-create the occurrence. Unfortunately, although the law enforcements gain a number of new information concerning arson cases, nevertheless, it is still one of the most complicated crimes to establish in the criminal justice field. An exceptional trouble in arson investigation is that in numerous cases, fire fighters unavoidably tear down a large amount of the evidence while extinguishing the fires. Therefore, it is important that arson investigator must systematically process evidence at the fire scene and gather as much circumstantial evidence as possible.


Axelrod, A. & Antinozzi, G. (2002). The complete idiot’s guide to criminal investigation. United States: Alpha Books.

Becker, R.F., (2008). Criminal Investigation. Boston: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Brown, M.F., (2001). Criminal investigation: law and practice. United Kingdom: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Harmon, D.E., (2008). Careers in Explosives and Arson Investigation. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group.

Hopkins, M. (2009). Why Are Arson Detection Rates so Low? A study of the Factors that Promote and Inhibit the Detection of Arson. Oxford Journals, 3, 78-88.

Cite this Arson Investigation

Arson Investigation. (2016, Jul 23). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/arson-investigation-2/

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