You are on page 1of 67

Vehicle Fire Investigation

1
Introduction

 This presentation will address the


trials and tribulations of vehicle fire
investigation
 The presenter is Steve Mackaig
from Fire Cause Analysis located
in California. Don’t hold that
against him.

2
How’s the National Vehicle Fire
Loss
Picture?
Approximately 285,000 vehicle fires occur per year,
75% of vehicle fires are motor vehicles.
Vehicle fires result in 330 deaths, 1400 injuries and 692 million in
Damage

83 PERCENT ARE CLASSIFIED AS ACCIDENTIAL

3
Our Topics for Discussion and
Debate
 Vehicle fire investigation popularity
 How is the vehicle fire cause
determined?
 The field formula of vehicle fire cause
 Understanding vehicle systems
 Indicators of vehicle system failure
 Methodology of a physical fire cause
examination
 Subrogation
 Vehicle arson

4
Suggested Reading

 Investigation of Motor Vehicle


Fires, Lee S. Cole
 Kirk’s Fire Investigation, John
Dehaan
 NFPA 921, 2011 edition

5
Who Enjoys Vehicle Fire
Investigation?
 It appears to be the least popular
form of fire cause investigation
 WHY?

6
Who is Initially Determining the
Cause of Most Vehicle Fires?

7
8
Private Fire Investigators

 Different scope of responsibility


 Uses same process of fire cause
determination but long after
extinguishment
 Limited power to pursue arson
 Suspected arsonist may also be
client of insurance company
 More time and resources for
accidental fire causes

10
Determining Fire Cause
You Can Choose:
 The wheel of fire origin or
 Flip a coin or
 You can use burn patterns and fire
behavior indicators in an
organized, safe and scientific
approach.

11
Landmark Cases such as Daubert
have Challenged Fire Experts
Methodology
What is the most internationally
excepted Guideline text in Fire
Investigation?
National Fire Protection Association 921
Guide For Fire and Explosion Investigations

2011 Edition Chapter 25 Motor Vehicles


Use a Fire Determination Process
that is Considered a Systematic
Approach
The Scientific Method is considered a
reliable contemporary Systematic
Approach
Scientific Method

 Recognize The Need ( fire occurs)


 Define The Problem ( requires fire cause
Investigation)
 Collect Data ( facts and indictors)
 Analyze Data ( inductive reasoning)
 Develop an Hypothesis ( cause opinion)
 Test Hypothesis ( what didn’t cause the fire )
 Select Final Hypothesis ( Fire Cause Opinion)
15
Burning Modern Vehicles Are
Influenced by
 Composites
 Unlimited air supply and wind
influence
 Preheated components
 Fuel and oil sources under
pressure
 Large amount of plastics and
rubber

16
The Basic Rule of Thumb in
identifying the Area of Origin
is: The area of origin is identified as the

area of most severe damage and the
lowest level of severe damage.

 Accidental fires tend to start and develop


slowly while arson fires are associated to
rapid fire start and spread.

 What is it about modern vehicles that


can potentially screw up this basic
theory?

17
Burn patterns and physical
indicators on the vehicle
provides the
clues of fire cause & origin.
 Unfortunately, the amount of fire
damage is proportional to the
amount of indicators or clues that
remain after the fire.

18
19
Factors that effect your
indicators
 Fire fighting activities
 Salvage activities
 Towing activities
 Condition of night time
 Wet surfaces
 Standing water, foam or snow

20
Once You Have Identified The
Area of Fire Origin
 Identify all potential ignition
sources
 Identify all potential fuel sources
 Systematically rule out unrelated
fire causes
 Challenge your own opinion

21
Additional Information that can
be valuable in determining the
fire cause:
 Events prior to the fire
 Vehicle history and use
 Mechanical and recall data
research

22
Formula For Fire Cause

HEAT

FUEL EVENT

23
The First Step

 Fire typically originates in the area


of most severe damage
 Burn patterns on the body reveal
direction of fire travel, fire exposure
and liquid patterns
 Heat naturally rises and flammable
liquids flow to the lower areas.

24
Work towards area greatest
damage comparing surfaces
and the various levels of
damage.

25
Consider the probabilities

 Where do you think the most


common place for a accidental fire
to occur is?

 Where do you think arson is the


most common?

26
Document your investigation as
you proceed
 Compare the 5 compartments
between each other
 Compare damage within each
compartment
 Photograph before and after debris
removal
 Recommend using photo
procedure that parallels inspection

27
Methods of Documentation

 Digital Camera
 Video
 sketching

28
Systematically rule out
unrelated fire causes
 Potentials include fuel, lubrication,
electrical, friction, heat exposure,
smoking materials, open flame
sources

29
Potential follow up issues

 Manufactures defects
 Recent repairs
 Fluid analysis
 Component analysis
 Dealer survey, mechanic inquiry &
parts department resources
 Exemplar vehicle

30
Let’s examine the 3 elements of
fire cause
 First is fuel sources
 Gasoline
 Diesel fuel
 Propane
 Power steering fluid
 Transmission oil
 Gear oil
 Anti freeze
 Air conditioning refrigerant
 Wet cell batteries
31
Heat ignition sources

 Engine surface heat


 Exhaust system-pipes, manifolds &
mufflers
 Friction-brake pads, bearings & tires
 Electrical system-resistance heating,
dead short & energized ground
 Smoking materials
 Intentional fire setting

32
Events

 Was vehicle operating


 System failure potential after
parking
 Pre-fire activities and indicators
 Pre-fire conditions such as
weather, road grade, towing,
turning accessory use

33
Fire behaviors

 Fuel system failure is typically


rapid flame onset
 Lubricating oil on the exhaust
system create lots of white smoke
while the vehicle is moving, but no
flaming combustion why?
 Electrical fires typically develop
from a slow, smoldering state

34
Vehicle Component Analysis

 To accurately evaluate accidental


fire causes requires a basic
understanding of vehicle systems
 It has been my experience that
arson determined fires are typically
countered with accidental causes
so prepare by learning accidental
causes.

35
Carburetors

 Common in vehicles up to 1975


 Typically in 2 or 4 barrel
configuration
 2 to 6 pounds of fuel pressure
 FAILURE POTENTIAL-
 Gasket & seal leakage, improper
adjustment
 Backfires

36
37
Fuel Injection

 Fuel is injected into each cylinder


by use of a mechanical pump, air
pump or electric signal
 Because of normal system
pressure, leakage is typically in the
form of a spray at 30-40 pounds
per square inch.
 Immediate fire, black smoke, rapid
spread
38
39
Fuel injection failure potential

 Leakage at the rubber seals


 Leakage where fuel distribution rail
connects to injectors
 Leakage at Schrader valve
 Leakage at fuel hose connections
 Fuel hose side wall
 System pressure spike
 Plastic failure from heat, pressure
and vibration
40
Indicators of fuel system
failures
 Severe fire damage in the area of origin
 Area of origin houses fuel system
components with leakage potential
 Origin surfaces are burned cleaned and
brightly discolored
 Liquid stains and evidence of fuel wash
 Fire start described as immediate
 Fire described as explosion
 Fire occurs during start up
 Engine operation is disrupted as fire is
discovered
41
Lubrication system

 This includes systems that


lubricate the engine, transmission
and power steering.
 Oil ignites from exposure to
exhaust system surface heat
 FAILURE POTENTIAL
 Leaks at gaskets, seals and hoses.

55
Indicators of oil leakage related
fire
 Area around the origin burned clean with
adjacent areas oil stained
 Reported white smoke prior to flame
discovery
 Initially reported as fire under vehicle
along with dripping liquid
 Fire discovered once vehicle stops
moving or up to approximately 10
minutes after parking

56
Areas with leakage potential

 Engine-front and rear seals, valve


covers, oil filter, oil pan, intake
manifold & distributor seal.
 Power steering- hoses, crimp
connections, fluid reservoir
 Transmission-rear seal, vent tube
and dip stick tube

57
Electrical system

 Most types of system failure


protected with fuses, relays, fusible
links.
 These devises can activate from a
short circuit or fire caused heat
exposure.

66
Types of failure

 Dead short- electrical energy to


ground
 Resistance heating-electrical
resistance during current flow at
weak connection or damaged wire
 Ground fault-ground system
becomes energized or ungrounded
from poor connection.

67