Situations or conditions may exist at fire scenes that suggest the possibility
of the incident being incendiary. Information leading to this conculsion
comes from three related sources/stages: 1) initial interviews, 2) scene
examination, and 3) subsequent investigation.
Investigating details presented in the following stages will often aid
in the unveiling of critical information.
Stage 1: The interview.
Information obtained through interviewing the owner of a business or
other insured property.
- New or increased coverage on the structure? Expiring coverage?
- Obsolescence of items or location?
- Any prior fires?
- Prior insurance claims at that location or elsewhere?
- Prior questionable or fraudulent claims?
- Large amounts of cash claimed?
- Domestic problems?
- Closing of seasonal business?
- Foreclosure or condemnation situation?
- Numerous debts?
- Property for sale (presently or unsuccessfully in the past)?
- Relatives with previous fires?
- Problems with neighbors?
- Multiple insurance policies?
- Fires to cover other crimes (especially embezzlement, tax evasion,
- Poor business?
- Lacks ability to obtain raw materials or merchandise?
- New highway bypassing business?
- Controversies between owner and contractor during construction?
- Repairs from first fire not completed or started before second fire
totals the building?
- Especially true if insurance coverage is too low to cover the total
building: but, if burned twice, the coverage would be greater?
- Owner or spouse in poor health or must retire shortly anyway?
- Fires preceded by vandalism or threats by unknown persons?
- Neighborhood deteriorating or planned for an "adverse" development?
Stage 2: Scene examination.
Information learned from a physical examination of the arson fire scene.
- Unlocked, open, or forced exterior doors or windows after business
- Incendiary interior fire with locked exterior doors?
- Intrusion/fire alarms disconnected or otherwise disabled?
- Sprinkler system shut off or otherwise interfered with?
- Question: are furniture and other furnishings present after the fire
"normal" to the type and "style" of occupancy?
- Non-communicated fire damage in two or more areas?
- Obsolete or unusable contents?
- Lack of expected contents--vacant rooms, empty closets, low food supplies?
- Localized, low points of burning--irregular fire patterns?
- Peculiar origin areas such as middle of a room?
- Check doors and windows: locked, open when they should be closed, covered,
nailed, blocked? Are there any signs of forced entry?
- Thermostats set unusually high or low for season?
- Wattage of light bulbs indicate intentional "over-bulbing"?
- Amperage of fuses, signs of tampering, signs of accelerant poured in
or around circuit boxes?
- Appliance locations and settings?
- Prized possessions missing from their expected or usual place?
- Pets killed in the fire (locate remains)?
- Family photo albums or framed pictures on walls or desk?
- College diplomas or professional certifications (CPA, MD, etc.) displayed?
- Special licenses?
- Items of person memorabilia (game ball, bowling trophy, etc.)?
- The Fire Insurance policy for the building is not destroyed in the
- Irreplaceable documents such as wills or deeds in the house--not destroyed?
- Hobby materials destroyed (valuable guns, stamp collection, woodworking
- Check "out" buildings and cartilage for unusual or unexpected
- Damaged, poor quality, obsolete or pre-burned contents?
- Flash burn injuries to occupants (especially hands, face, lower legs)--possible
accelerant used to set the fire?
- Damaged or tampered fuel or electrical supply lines?
- Condemned, deteriorated or flawed structure?
- Termites or other insect damage?
- Dry or wet rot?
- Partly constructed before failure or bankruptcy?
- Fires just prior to or during renovation?
Stage 3: Subsequent investigation.
Information learned concerning the motive or opporunity of people involved
in an arson fire.
- Occupants leaving shortly before fire?
- No sign of forced entry; alarms or sprinklers fail? Who has the keys?
- ALIBIS--trips, vacations or visiting friends.
- Comments about the fire made to neighbors or friends before or after
the fire occurs.
- Comments made to people about the condition of the business, etc.
- Movement of furnishings or valuables before fire.
- Locked doors of business during a normal work day.
- Surrounding business or neighbors not present during the time or the
- Nighttime or holiday fires.
- Fires during storms or fog conditions.
- Rumors of personal financial debts from a girlfriend, drug habit, gambling,
Reprinted with permission from Management for Arson
Prevention and Control. pages CC-11 to CC-14.