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Excerpts from
The Pocket Guide to Accelerant Evidence Collection

Appendix II: Twenty Common Ignitable Liquids used as Fire Accelerants

This Appendix lists the common & chemical names, chemical formula, definition, important physical properties and common uses of the most frequently encountered ignitable liquids used as arson accelerants. Temperatures are rounded to the nearest full degree. Properties are reported where available from a reliable source.

1. Acetone - (dimethyl ketone, 2-propanone), (C3H6O), flash point -4 degrees F (-20 degrees C); ignition temperature 869 degrees F (465.4 degrees C); explosive limits 2.6%-13.0%; vapor density 2.0; specific gravity 0.792; toxicity (3). A volatile, flammable, colorless, liquid ketone having a fragrant odor and miscible with water, alcohol, and most oils. Principal uses are as a solvent in lacquers, varnishes, cosmetics, nail polish remover, and in the mixture of other solvents.

2. Carbon Disulfide - (carbon disulfide), (CS2) flash point -22 degrees F (-30 degrees C); ignition temperature 212 degrees F (100 degrees C); explosive limits 1.3% to 50%; vapor density 2.6; specific gravity 1.26; toxicity (2). A volatile, flammable, colorless to yellow liquid with a rotten egg odor. Carbon Disulfide, unlike most of the other common ignitable liquids, is heavier than water and will sink.

3. Coleman Fuel - (Coleman fuel C-2538, white gasoline, camping stove fuel, camping lantern fuel); (chemical formula - Coleman fuel is a mixture of hydrocarbons & doesn't have a single formula); flash point -27 degrees F (-33 degrees C); ignition temperature - not reported; explosive limit LEL is 0.7% - UEL not reported; vapor density 3.7; specific gravity .744; toxicity (3). A straight run, unrefined, petroleum distillate used in camping stoves and lanterns. Camp stove fuels in general have a carbon range of C5 - C11.

4. Ethyl Alcohol - (ethanol, grain alcohol), (C2H5OH), flash point 55 degrees F (13 degrees C); ignition temp. 689 degrees F (365 degrees C); explosive limits 3.5%-19.0%; vapor density 1.6; specific gravity 0.8; toxicity (0). A volatile, flammable, colorless liquid having a pleasant odor and miscible in water and many organic liquids. Principal uses are in alcoholic beverages, as a solvent in pharmaceuticals, cleaning preparations, and some antifreezes.

5. Ethyl Ether - (ether, diethyl ether), (C2H5)2O, flash point -49 degrees F (-45 degrees C); ignition temperature 356 degrees F (180 degrees C); explosive limits 1.9% - 36%; vapor density 2.6; specific gravity 0.7; toxicity (2). A volatile, highly flammable, colorless liquid which forms explosive peroxides under the influence of air and light and has a sweetish odor and is slightly miscible in water, methanol, and oils. Principle uses as a solvent in organic synthesis, smokeless powder and industrial solvents.

6. Fuel oil no. 1- (kerosene, range oil, coal oil, Jet - A (aviation) fuel); Chemical formula is a carbon range of C9 - C17; flash point 110 degrees F - 162 degrees F (42 degrees C - 72 degrees C); ignition temp. 410 degrees F (210 degrees C); explosive limits 0.7% - 5%; vapor density .7 - 5; specific gravity 0.81; Toxicity (3). A colorless, combustible, straight run petroleum distillate liquid having a characteristic odor miscible in petroleum solvents and immiscible in water. Principal uses as an ingredient in lamp oils, charcoal starter fluids, jet engine fuels and insecticides. K-1 kerosene has a low sulfur content and is used in portable space heaters.

7. Fuel oil no. 2 (home heating fuel, diesel fuel), Chemical formula is a carbon range of C9 - C23, flash point 126 degrees F-204 degrees F (52 degrees C- 96 degrees C); ignition temperature 494F (257C); explosive limits - not reported; vapor density greater than 1; specific gravity less than 1; toxicity (3). A light brown, combustible, straight run or cracked petroleum distillate consisting mostly of C9 - C23 range hydrocarbons. Principal uses include heating fuel in domestic or commercial atomizing type burners and as a fuel in diesel engines.

8. Gasoline - (gas, motor fuel) Chemical formula - gasoline is a blended mixture of aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons; flash point -45 degrees F (-43 degrees C); ignition temp. 536 degrees F (280 degrees C) for 56 - 60 octane grade; explosive limits 1.4%-7.6%; vapor density 3.0 - 4.0; specific gravity 0.8; Toxicity (3). A highly flammable, blended liquid composed of more than 300 volatile hydrocarbon compounds manufactured from the fractionation or distillation of petroleum. Gasoline is the most commonly identified ignitable liquid accelerant reported by American forensic laboratories. Its principal use is as a fuel in spark ignited, internal combustion engines.

9. Isopropyl alcohol- (IPA, isopropanol, 2-propanol), (CH3 CHOHCH3), flash point 54 degrees F (12 degrees C); ignition temp. 750 degrees F (399 degrees C); explosive limits 2.5%-12.0%; vapor density 2.1; and specific gravity 0.79; Toxicity (3). A colorless, flammable liquid which is miscible in water, ether, and alcohol and having a pleasant odor. Principal uses as an ingredient in lacquers, rubbing alcohol, denaturant and lotions.

10. Kerosene - Refer to Fuel Oil #1. Kerosene is identical to Fuel Oil #1 from an investigator's standpoint.

11. Lacquer - Composition and properties of this category of product vary by manufacturer. A spirit varnish such as shellac; any of clear or colored synthetic organic coatings that typically dry to form a film by evaporation of the solvent.

12. Lacquer Thinner - A mixture of highly volatile solvents, miscible in water, of varying composition and properties depending on the manufacturer.

13. Methyl alcohol (methanol, wood alcohol) (CH3OH); flash point 54 degrees F (12 degrees C); ignition temp. 867 degrees F (484 degrees C); explosive limits 6.7% - 36%; vapor density 1.1; specific gravity 0.79; toxicity (4). A colorless, flammable, poisonous liquid having a slight alcohol odor when pure, miscible in water, ethanol, ketones and most other organic solvents. Principal uses as an ingredient in antifreeze, dry gas, windshield washer fluids and as a denaturant in ethanol.

14. Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK,2-butanone) (CH3COCH2CH3); flash point 16 degrees F ( -9 degrees C); ignition temp. 759 degrees F (404 degrees C); explosive limits 1.9%-10.0%; vapor density 2.5; specific gravity O.8; and toxicity (3). A colorless, flammable liquid having an acetone-like odor miscible in alcohol, ether, and slightly soluble in water. Principal use as a solvent in nitrocellulose coatings and lacquers, paint removers, cements and adhesives and in the manufacture of printed circuit boards.

15. Mineral Spirits (see paint thinner)

16. Naphtha (V M & P) A general term which may describe combustible products such as mineral spirits or flammable products such as petroleum ether. The IAAI Forensic Science Committee recommends that the term be avoided. Principle uses of products in this class include thinner in paints and varnishes and as a fuel for pocket lighters. Flash point, explosive limits and other properties vary by manufacturer.

17. Paint Thinner (mineral spirits), Paint thinner or mineral spirits is a complex petroleum distillate; flash point range is listed as 104 degrees F (40 degrees C) - 110 degrees F (43 degrees C); ignition temperature 473 degrees F (245 degrees C); explosive limits 0.8% @ 212 degrees F (100 degrees C); vapor density 3.9; specific gravity 0.8; toxicity (3). A category of clear, combustible liquid having petroleum type odor. Mineral spirits are midrange petroleum distillates ranging from C8 to C12 which is present in many paint thinners, oil base stains, dry cleaning solvents, and some brands of charcoal starter fluids. There may be slight variations in the chemical information provided for different manufacturers.

18. Toluene (methylbenzene, phenylmethane) (C6H5CH3); flash point 40 degrees F (4 degrees C); ignition temp. 896 F (480 degrees C); explosive limits 1.3% -7.0%; vapor density 3.1; specific gravity 0.8; toxicity (2). A colorless, flammable liquid with a benzene-like odor, miscible in alcohol, ether, acetone and very slightly soluble in water. Principal use as a solvent in paints and coatings, paint removers, explosives (TNT), adhesive solvent for model airplanes, and as a base for polyurethane resins.

19. Turpentine (oil of turpentine) (C10H16) - The chemical formula varies with the manufacturer; flash point 90 degrees F-115 degrees F (32 degrees C - 46 degrees C); ignition temp. 488 degrees F (253 degrees C); explosive limit (LEL) .8% - (UEL) not reported ; vapor density less then 1; specific gravity 0.8; toxicity (4). A colorless, combustible liquid derived from steam distillation of wood from pine (conifer) trees. Turpentine is miscible in oils, ether, and chloroform. Principal uses are as a drying agent or as a solvent for thinners of paints, lacquers, varnishes and used in wax-based polishes and liniments. It is also used to manufacture certain linoleums, soap, ink, artificial campour and rubber.

20. Xylenes - (dimethylbenzene) C6H4 (CH3)2; flash point 29 degrees F ( - 2 degrees C) ; ignition temperature 867 degrees F (464 degrees C); explosive limits - not reported (moderate fire risk) ; vapor density > 1; specific gravity 0.86; toxicity (4). A colorless, flammable liquid miscible in alcohol and ether, insoluble in water. Xylene is isolated from crude wood distillate or obtained from fractional distillation of petroleum or coal tar. Commercial xylene is a mixture of three isomers, o-, m-, and p-xylene, the m-isomer predominates. Xylenes, a common chemical, are used for conversion to polyester fibers and plasticizers in the plastic industry, in aviation gasoline, rubber cements, automotive enamels, paints and lacquers, and a variety of other commercial applications.

Ignitable Liquid Classification

CLASS NUMBER (CLASS NAME)  "PEAK SPREAD" BASED N-ALKANE CARBON NOs (UNEVAPORATED LIQUID) EXAMPLES
1
Light Petroleum Distillates (LPD)
C4-C11 Petroleum ethers. Pocket lighter fuels, some rubber cement solvents. VM & P Naphtha. Skelly solvents, some camping fuels.
2
Gasoline
C4-C12 All brands and grades of automotive gasoline, including gasohol.
3
Medium Petroleum Distillates (MPD)
C8-C12 Mineral spirits, some paint thinners, some charcoal starters, "Dry-cleaning" solvents, some torch fuels. Some solvents for insecticides, polishes, and some lamp oils.
4
Kerosine
C9-C16 Kerosine, No. 1 fuel oil, Jet-A (aviation) fuel, solvent for some insecticides and polishes, some paint thinners, some lamp oils.
5
Heavy Petroleum Distillates (HPD)
C10-C23 Diesel fuel. No. 2 fuel oil (home heating oil).

0
Miscellaneous

 

Variable Single compounds, turpentine, specialty mixtures which cannot be further classified into one of the categories below.
0.1 Oxygenated Solvents
Variable Alcohols, esters, ketones.

0.2 Isoparaffins

 

Variable Isoparaffin products, some charcoal starters, some copier fluids, some aviation gasolines, some lamp oils, some solvents for insecticides and polishes, some camping fuels.

0.3 Normal alkanes

 

Variable Specialty products formulated from normal alkanes. Some lamp oils, some solvents for insecticides and polishes.
0.4 Aromatic solvents
Variable Light, medium, and heavy "aromatic naphtha" used as solvents for paints and plastics.
0.5 Naphthenic/paraffinic solvents
Variable Specialty solvent/fuel produts made from Class 3 or Class 4 distillates treated to remove normal alkanes and aromatics.

Excerpted from A Pocket Guide to Accelerant Evidence Collection, 2nd Edition, (1999).

Courtesy Massachusetts Chapter, IAAI. Reprinted with permission.

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