Delplace, Michael and Vos, Eddie. Electric Short Circuits Help the Investigator
Determine Where the Fire Started. Fire Technology. Vol. 19, No. 3. August
1983. National Fire Protection Association.
Abstract: This article explains procedures investigators may follow
to determine if the fire was of electrical origin. The inspection of short
circuits can reveal important information about the fire. Damage to wires
and arcs can help investigators trace the steps of the fire.
Copper wiring can survive a fire with little or no damage. Its melting
point is 1,981 degrees F. When it is heated it releases an oxide that can
be removed with hydrochloric acid for examination. This procedure will not
destroy the evidence that lay beneath the oxides. Aluminum wires have a
much lower melting point and are usually destroyed by fires, leaving no
This article lists indicators of damage caused by electrical arcs, heating
or alloying, and mechanical damage. The article also explains how to trace
the point of origin by examining short circuits and electrical arcing. The
point of origin must reinforce other observations found at the fire scene
such as burn patterns and witness accounts. Once the point of origin has
been determined, a source of heat and combustible materials should be found
near the area of origin.
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