A fire investigation refers to the whole process in which an investigator or a detective finds out everything he can about an incident of a fire. The basic purpose of conducting this kind of investigation is to know the primary cause of the fire. Fire investigations are done under the field of forensic science, which abides by certain rules and a system to go about any investigation.
As with all kinds of forensic investigations, a fire investigation always looks at the scene of the incident first to gather primary evidences. This can be especially difficult because fire will always burn and contaminate objects that can be important in the investigation. Examining all the details will help investigators determine where the fire started, or what is termed the “seat of the fire.” Investigators look at factors such as the quantity and the color of the smoke stains, the intensity of the burn marks on an object, and the burn patterns on the wall. Once the seat of the fire is identified, it will be a lot easier to find out the real cause of the fire, whether it was intentional, accidental, or natural.
Another important step in any fire investigation is the interviewing of witnesses. Investigators can directly ask questions to the fire victims themselves, or approach the firefighters who responded to the fire. Eyewitnesses such as neighbors and passersby can also give a detailed account of how the fire started and spread. Witness accounts are very important because they can give some needed explanation about the event that material evidence sometimes cannot give. Inquiring witnesses can also help investigators easily find out the cause of the fire.
Once all evidence have been gathered, investigators now turn to laboratories to meticulously analyze the material evidence one by one. With the right chemicals and testing, forensic scientists can easily identify what ignited the fire. If, for example, flammable liquids such as paint-thinner and methane gas are discovered, investigators can then suspect arson. A fire investigation can even set up a reenactment to rule out any theories and speculations and pinpoint which explanations are most plausible.
A fire investigation can be a dangerous activity, as investigators may need to go through the ruins to collect enough evidence. For this reason, investigators should not only be knowledgeable in tracing the cause of the fire, but should also be experienced in handling equipment, such as electric machines and wiring systems. Investigators should also be good observers not only in the material details, but also in looking through a witness’s non-verbal hints to know whether or not his descriptions are credible.