Hoffman, John. Investigating Vehicle Fires. Firehouse. March 1992. pp.
Abstract: The author explains three helpful guidelines to investigating
vehicle fires: employ a mechanic to assist in the examination of the vehicle,
visit the scene of the fire if the car has been towed, and take sample and
use lab testing of the gas, motor oil and other substances.
The author argues that the investigator's job is to determine the area
of origin and the mechanics job to determine the cause of the fire. Because
automobiles are so complex, fire investigators cannot familiarize themselves
with every part of the car. Juries also doubt investigators who claim to
be experts in automotive engineering as well as fire investigation. A mechanic
will help determine the condition of the car before the fire, which may
reveal the owner's motives for burning the car. The investigator should
avoid using a dealership mechanic because his knowledge is limited to one
type of car. A mechanic who is a certified Master Technician through the
ASE national testing program is the best choice for a fire investigator.
Vehicles are often removed from the fire scene and taken to an impound
lot before the investigator has a chance to examine them. If this occurs,
the investigator must visit the burn site for inspection. In many cases,
accelerant can be found where the car was burned. The surrounding areas
should also be examined for empty accelerant containers.
An investigator should submit samples of suspected accelerants to a lab
to determine what the substance is. A sample of the vehicle's motor oil
should also be taken. The oil will reveal the amount of engine wear the
engine has sustained. The condition of the engine can help determine a possible
motive for the owner.
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