Arson and the Science of FireBy Ken Strutin, Published on November 12, 2012
Today, fire is being studied as science, but as arson it continues to be enigmatic.1 There is a dualism behind arson that encompasses the behaviors of fire2 and people.3 And in criminal prosecutions, assumptions about the former have led to misjudgments about the latter. Indeed, progress in the understanding of how fires begin and spread has called into question the integrity of arson convictions.4
Across the country, the prosecution and defense5 of arson cases are being rethought due to revelations from scientific inquiries into the nature and causes of fire.6 "For generations, arson inspectors have used outmoded theories to help indict and incarcerate many suspects. But as new science is brought to bear on old cases, it is becoming clear that over the past several decades, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people have been convicted of arson based on scant research and misguided beliefs"7
This is a collection of selected research publications, web resources and case studies as well as scholarly legal articles and scientific reports on arson investigation and fire science.
CODES, STANDARDS AND GUIDES
NFPA Codes & Standards
"NFPA develops, publishes, and disseminates more than 300 consensus codes and standards intended to minimize the possibility and effects of fire and other risks. Virtually every building, process, service, design, and installation in society today is affected by NFPA documents."
NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations (current ed. 2011; next ed. 2014)
"NFPA 921 sets the bar for scientific-based investigation and analysis of fire and explosion incidents. Referenced in the field, in training, and in court, it is the foremost guide for rendering accurate opinions as to incident origin, cause, responsibility, and prevention. It is intended for use by both public sector employees who are responsible for fire investigation and private sector professionals who conduct investigations for insurance companies or litigation purposes."
NFPA 1: Fire Code (current ed. 2012; next ed. 2015)
"NFPA 1, Fire Code, advances fire and life safety for the public and first responders as well as property protection by providing a comprehensive, integrated approach to fire code regulation and hazard management. It addresses all the bases with extracts from and references to more than 130 NFPA codes and standards including such industry benchmarks as NFPA 101, NFPA 54, NFPA 58, NFPA 30, NFPA 13, NFPA 25, and NFPA 72. Official document scope."
NFPA 1: Uniform Fire Code (2006 ed.)
"Adopted in jurisdictions throughout North America, NFPA 1: Uniform Fire Code provides a comprehensive approach to fire code regulation and hazard management. It incorporates extracts and references to over 125 NFPA codes and standards to cover all aspects of fire protection."
Standard of Care in Fire Investigation (John J. Lentini, CFEI, F-ABC)
"When NFPA 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, was first published in 1992, there was a great uproar in the fire investigation community. For years after its introduction, NFPA 921 remained a controversial document, and was particularly detested by individuals who believed that 921 'took away their tools.' No longer was it considered valid to declare a fire incendiary on the basis that it had burned 'hotter than normal,' because the document correctly pointed out that a well-ventilated gasoline fire burned no 'hotter' than a well-ventilated wood fire. Further, the document dealt with 'misconceptions' widely held in the fire investigation community. Nearly all of these misconceptions were related to the misinterpretation of post-fire artifacts such as crazed glass, melted bed springs, and spalled concrete as evidence of arson. Individuals who had obtained convictions or ruled fires incendiary based on these indicators were understandably troubled, and they made their displeasure known. The most important result of the publication was not, however, the debunking of the mythology of arson investigation; it was the statement that fire investigation should be conducted according to the scientific method."
Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) (NAFI)
"NAFI's Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator program began in 1983 and has grown to be the largest Fire Investigator certification program in the world. The designation of CFEI is a confirmation of an investigator's skills and experience."
Certified Fire Inspector I (CFI) (NFPA)
"The NFPA Fire Inspector I and II (CFI-I and CFI-II) and Fire Plan Examiner (CFPE) certification programs are a result of requests by fire inspectors, plan reviewers, state agencies, and national organizations to develop certifications founded on the NFPA Professional Qualification Standards and other applicable NFPA codes and standards."
Certified Fire Investigation Instructor (CFII) (NAFI)
"The CFII course is offered several times a year as a one-day, eight (8) hour course in conjunction with NAFI sponsored training programs. The one day course is intended to provide the participant with basic skills that are essential if the CFEI will be providing training and education programs to other investigators, public education programs to a variety of audiences, or presenting information to others that do not have a technical background in fire and explosion investigation."
Certified Fire Investigator (IAAI-CFI)
"In 1986, the IAAI resolved a national concern by developing the Certified Fire Investigator (IAAI-CFI) Program. The IAAI-CFI program is an established process for identifying and recognizing a fire investigator's expertise. This program is accredited by the National Board of Fire Service Professional Qualifications (PRO BOARD) www.theProBoard.org. You do not have to belong to IAAI to become certified."
Certified Fire Protection Specialist Board (CFPS) (NFPA)
"The Certified Fire Protection Specialist Board (CFPS) was formed in 1971 for the purpose of documenting competency and offering professional recognition for individuals involved in fire protection, fire safety, and fire prevention. In 1998, CFPS and NFPA partnered to jointly offer this highly regarded certification program."
Certified Vehicle Fire Investigator (CVFI) (NAFI)
"The CVFI course is offered every other year as a four-day, 36 hour, NAFI sponsored training program. The intent of the National Certification Board's Certified Vehicle Fire Investigator (CVFI) certification program is to increase the professional knowledge and improve the analytical skills of those persons who engage in the investigation and analysis of fires and explosions in motor vehicles and/or participate in the civil and criminal litigation which ensues from such investigations and analyses."
Diplomate (D-ABC) (ABC)
"Certification as a Diplomate of the ABC, denoted by the designation D-ABC, is awarded to individuals with a BS/BA in a natural science, two years of forensic laboratory or teaching experience and upon successful completion of any ABC Examination. The examinations are: Comprehensive Criminalistics Examination (CCE), Drug Analysis (DA), Molecular Biology (MB), Fire Debris Analysis (FD), Trace Evidence - Hairs and Fibers (THF) and Trace Evidence – Paints and Polymers (TPP). The CCE is a comprehensive examination covering all disciplines found in a crime laboratory as well as the areas of safety and ethics. Diplomate status is designed for laboratory directors, supervisors, educators, or where Specialty Examinations have not been planned or developed, (e.g. explosives, soils, etc.) or those no longer able to maintain the proficiency testing requirement for their Fellow status."
Fellow (F-ABC) (ABC)
"Study Guide Certification as a Fellow of the ABC, denoted by the designation F-ABC, is awarded to successful completion of any of the ABC examinations, successful performance on a proficiency test, and a minimum of two years experience in the specialty area. The specialty areas currently covered are Molecular Biology, Drug Analysis, Fire Debris Analysis and Trace Evidence – Hairs and Fibers and Trace Evidence – Paint and Polymers. An ABC Fellow certificate signifies that the analyst is qualified to conduct examinations in the specialty area."
Fire Protection Professional Engineer (SFPE)
"Professional licensing as a fire protection engineer brings many advantages. As an individual, the licensed fire protection engineer gets an important credential bringing recognition from the engineering community, better chances for professional advancement, and the potential for a higher salary. In most states, professional licensure is required by law to offer engineering services to the public. Employers of fire protection engineers benefit from having their employees licensed. It is not only a competitive advantage; it is tangible evidence that an engineer is competent in fire protection engineering. SFPE has a Position Statement on professional licensure. For more information about the benefits of engineering licensure and how to become a PE, visit www.NCEES.org."
National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES)
"NCEES (the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing professional licensure for engineers and surveyors. It develops, administers, and scores the examinations used for engineering and surveying licensure in the United States. It also facilitates professional mobility and promotes uniformity of the U.S. licensure processes through services for its member licensing boards and licensees. These services include the records program, study materials, credentials evaluations, exam administration, and more. The Council's members are the engineering and surveying licensure boards from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands."
Pro Board Fire Service Professional Qualifications System (Pro Board)
"The purpose of the Pro Board is to establish an internationally recognized means of acknowledging professional achievement in the fire service and related fields. The accreditation of organizations that certify uniform members of public fire departments, both career and volunteer, is the primary goal. However, other organizations with fire protection interests may also be considered for participation. Accreditation is generally provided at the State or Provincial level to the empowered certifying authority of that jurisdiction."
Kirk's Fire Investigation (Prentice Hall 7th ed. 2011)
"Kirk's Fire Investigation is up-to-date with every aspect of the process, from evidence collection through expert testimony. Written by a forensic scientist [John D. DeHaan] with extensive experience in all phases of fire and explosion investigation and a forensic fire engineer [David J. Icove], Kirk's Fire Investigation 7th Edition details essential skills and brings fire investigators fully up-to-date with recent advances in the field. The model curriculum of the Fire Emergency Service Higher Education (FESHE) group serves as a basis for this important text, which also correlates closely with the 2011 edition of NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations and the 2009 edition of NFPA 1033: Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator. Now with updated and expanded information on fire dynamics and ignition plus new case examples. Chapters address every type of fire -- including structure, grass and wildland, automobile, clothing and fabric -- and every topic of vital interest to today's fire and arson investigator."
Practical Fire and Arson Investigation (Taylor & Francis 2012)
"Practical Fire and Arson Investigation, Third Edition continues to inform all levels of investigators in the practice of investigating fires. From determining origin and cause, through interviews and documentation, to court testimony, this best-selling text covers all aspects of a typical arson investigation and uses recent cases studies from the author's [David R. Redsicker] investigations. Special chapters detail fires that result in fatalities, vehicular fires, and evidence collection. This edition includes the investigation of arson as a terrorist act, an exhaustive glossary of terms, and an eight-page color insert showing details of flames, smoke, and burn patterns."
Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation (CRC Press 2nd ed. 2012)
"Knowledge of the science behind fires is critical to understanding a fire's cause and successfully presenting that determination to the authorities or in litigation. Now in its second edition, Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation focuses on the practical application of scientific principles to determine the causes of fires. Uniquely qualified with years of experience in on-site investigations, lab analyses, and courtroom presentation, the author [John J. Lentini] provides a resource that is unparalleled in depth and focus."
Building and Fire Research at NBS/NIST 1975-2000 (NIST 2003)
"In the last quarter of the 20th Century, building and fire research programs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, formerly the National Bureau of Standards, provided one of the most significant sources of technology, measurements and standards for the construction and fire safety communities of the world. These communities are of great social and economic importance. The built environment shelters and supports most human activities. Its functionality, safety, environmental quality, aesthetics, and economy are important to everyone's quality of life and productivity. In the United States, new construction, renovation, operation and maintenance of constructed facilities amount to over 1/8 of the Gross Domestic Product, and the costs of fire protection and losses to unwanted fires exceed $200 billion, annually. This history summarizes the technical accomplishments of these programs and their impacts, the existential and management challenges faced by the programs, and the visions and efforts of the staff."
Development of Tools for Smoke Residue and Deposition Analysis (NIJ 2010)
"In developing methods and a scientific basis for the use of smoke deposition analysis as a forensic tool, this study examined the physics of smoke deposition from a hot layer to a wall, using a hood apparatus specifically designed to study the smoke deposition based on thermophoresis experimentally and analytically; for the first time, the optical density method was used to measure the amount of smoke deposited on the surface."
Fire and Arson Scene Evidence: A Guide for Public Safety Personnel (NIJ 2000)
"Outlines basic procedures for fire scene documentation and evidence collection. This Research Report is aimed at public safety personnel who may not be trained in the specialized aspects of fire scene investigation but may be in the position of having to respond to a fire/arson scene. Specific areas discussed include establishing the role of first responders, evaluating the scene, documenting the scene, processing evidence at the scene, and completing the scene investigation. Appendixes provide sample forms used in fire investigations, additional reading, and sources for further information."
Fire and Explosion Investigations and Forensic Analyses: Near- and Long-Term Needs Assessment for State and Local Law Enforcement (NIJ 2008)
"Recognizing the current state of affairs and wishing to provide guidance, the National Institute of Justice commissioned the National Center for Forensic Science to prepare this report on the near- and long-term needs in Arson and Explosion analyses and investigations. Through collaboration with numerous representatives of the relevant communities and a survey instrument targeted to those communities this report was prepared."
Fire Dynamics and Forensic Analysis of Liquid Fuel Fires (NIJ 2011)
"This study aimed to expand the fundamental understanding of liquid-fuel fire dynamics, establish the utility of forensic tools, and validate empirically based correlations used to model spill fire scenarios."
Forensic Investigation Techniques for Inspecting Electrical Conductors Involved in Fire (NIJ 2012)
"This research determined whether there are distinguishing characteristics for energized and non-energized wires subjected to various types of fire exposures, so as to gain an understanding of the various electrical and thermal conditions that can produce beads on electrical wires."
Guide for Investigating Bomb and Explosion Scenes (NIJ 2009)
"Bombs and other explosions can cause chaos and tragedy. First responders and investigators at these scenes must be meticulous — from arranging for emergency medical care for victims, to locating the site of the explosion, to identifying the explosives used in the bombing. This guide describes best practices for responding to and investigating an explosion and bombing scene."
Guide for Investigating Fire and Arson (NIJ 2009)
"This handbook is intended as a guide to recommended practices for the collection and preservation of evidence at fire/arson scenes. Fires are destructive, spreading as they grow and consuming the evidence of their initiation. Putting out fires and finding out how they started involves public officials and private groups — such as fire departments, emergency medical services and law enforcement. Law enforcement and fire service departments must always determine the cause of the fire, whether arson or accidental, in order to identify hazards and dangerous practices and prevent future fires. Many fires can be prevented through public education — for instance, educating people on safe practices for using room heaters or other gas and electric devices."
Juvenile Firesetting: A Research Overview (OJJDP 2005)
"A thorough understanding of juvenile firesetting—including why children and youth set fires—is key to curbing this destructive behavior. By examining research literature on juvenile firesetting and making recommendations for further research, this Bulletin offers an overview of the terms and theoretical formulations common to juvenile firesetting studies and identifies ways to enhance future research."
Measuring the Impact of Cognitive Bias in Fire Investigation (Arson Research Project 2012)
"Cognitive bias has been found to shape decision making in a wide variety of fields. Criminal investigation and the forensic sciences are no exception. Fire investigation, part criminal investigation, part forensic examination, is uniquely positioned to be influenced by the affects of cognitive bias. The 2009 report from the National Academy of Science, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States; A Path Forward (NAS Report), recognizes conceptual bias as a factor in all forensic disciplines. The National Fire Protection Association Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigation (NFPA 921) acknowledges these biases as a concern in fire investigation. This report will explore the most common forms of cognitive bias found in the field of fire investigation, review past research and give recommendations on how these biases might be minimized. It will also present the results of new research which sought to measure the influence of expectation and role bias in fire investigation. A companion report, 'Case Study Review of Contextual Bias in Fire Investigation' is available at www.Thearsonproject.org."
Reducing Uncertainty of Quantifying the Burning Rate of Upholstered Furniture (NIJ 2012)
"The aim of this study was to develop a set of guidelines for use by crime scene investigators for predicting the burning rate of upholstered furniture and for optimizing the uncertainty of the predictions. The researchers conducted two series of full-scale furniture and room calorimeter tests. The aim of the first series of tests was to quantify ignition scenario and enclosure effects on the heat release rate (HRR) of upholstered furniture for three upholstered furniture burning rate models (Babrauskas, Babrauskas 2, and CBUF). The second series of tests involved the use of 22 sets of used upholstered furniture. In these tests, 27 full-scale room fire tests were conducted on at least 1 item in each set of furniture. The results of the second series of fire tests were used to assess the predictive capability of the three upholstered furniture burning rate models. The assessment found that the three models significantly underpredicted the peak HRR of upholstered furniture. The assessment also found that the accuracy of the Babrauskas model needs to be improved. In addition to testing the predictive capability of the three models, the study also investigated factors that affect the HRR of burning upholstered furniture. These factors include size of the ignition source (small flame vs. large flame), the type of ignition source, the location of the ignition source, and the type of padding material used in the furniture. Implications for policy and practice are discussed. Tables, figures, references, and appendixes."
Spontaneous Ignition in Fire Investigation (NIJ 2012)
"Spontaneous ignition is initiated through heat transfer or the inability to cool a hot material. The process starts as a chemical reaction that is not yet combustion; the consequence of ignition can be smoldering or flaming. The key variables involved in this process are the size of the material and the nature of the heat transfer, as well as the particular chemical and physical properties of the material. In any fire investigation, it is important for the investigator to recognize the signs of spontaneous ignition and to learn how to estimate whether it was possible in the particular fire pattern. This requires collecting samples for measurement. It is also important for forensic laboratories to have the capability and understanding to perform tests that can determine whether spontaneous ignition has occurred. Three scenarios for spontaneous ignition are considered in this report: a cold material in hot surroundings, a material on a hot surface, and a hot material in cold surroundings. A survey of just over 200 investigators inquired about their experiences with spontaneous ignition. Most of the incidents of spontaneous ignition reported involved materials infused with linseed oil, wet hay storage, and problems with clothing just taken from a dryer. Other cases involved potting soil, mulch, and a variety of other materials. The current study focused on linseed oil and cotton. The properties needed for spontaneous ignition were measured with two methods. The testing required a specialized oven. The two testing methods are described. Examples are provided on how to use the material and a technique for measuring the heat transfer coefficient of the oven. A database of property data was compiled. 4 tables, 10 references, and a listing of nomenclature."
Test of the TIF 8800 Combustible Gas Detector in a Post-Flashover Environment (Arson Research Project 2012)
"At the Souliotes fire scene in January 1997, fire investigators used a Combustible Gas Detector to confirm the presence of liquid accelerant. According to trial testimony of fire investigators, positive readings were obtained in the garage, kitchen and living room of the house. All of the areas of the house where the positive readings were obtained had experienced flashover conditions. The purpose of the testing was to examine the reliability of the TIF 8800 in detecting the presence of an ignitable liquid in a post-flashover fire scene."
Arson Investigation – After Decades of Junk Science, Wrongful Convictions Blog, March 2, 2012
"Arson is, of course, the intentional setting of a fire. Arson is determined ex post facto by a 'fire investigator'. Fire investigators have historically been people who started their career with a fire department, and inherited the job from a predecessor. Training was largely 'on the job' as a result of mentoring by superiors. It might also be common for novice fire inspectors to attend a one week training course. The body of knowledge concerning the causes, and locations of origin, of fires was anecdotal and passed from one generation of fire inspectors to another as folklore. Some have even compared the 'old folklore science' of fire investigation to witchcraft. I'm happy to report that true fire science has made great strides over the last two decades, and what it has determined is that most of the 'rules of thumb' that were the 'stock in trade' of fire investigators for decades were wrong."
Evolution of Fire Investigation and Its Impact on Arson Cases, Crim. Just. Mag. Spring 2012)
"The first step in investigating an alleged arson fire is to make certain that the fire was, in fact, intentionally set. Except in the most obvious cases, this step requires expert assistance from a knowledgeable fire investigator. This article will describe the changes that have impacted the fire investigation profession over the last three decades. Although the change has been gradual and at times maddeningly slow, the pace of change has stepped up even as our knowledge of fire behavior makes us less certain about the accuracy of fire origin and cause determinations. Criminal justice professionals should be aware of the changes in the science, to enable them to decide whether to go forward with the prosecution, mount a defense, or challenge evidence based on its reliability or lack thereof."
Questionable Validity of Fire Origin Determination, Innocence Network, March 31, 2012
Presentation by John J. Lentini, CFEI, F-ABC that addressed the following topics: (1) The Complexity of Fires; (2) The NAS report; (3) Attempts to Assess Validity; (4) Quo Vadis?
Spark of Truth: Can Science Bring Justice to Arson Trials?, Discover Mag., Oct. 24, 2011
"Fire researchers have shattered dozens of arson myths in recent years. Yet American courts continue to convict people who are likely innocent of the crime." See also Seven Myths About Arson, Discover Mag., Oct. 24, 2011.
Trial by Fire: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?, New Yorker, Sept. 7, 2009
"In 2005, Texas established a government commission to investigate allegations of error and misconduct by forensic scientists. The first cases that are being reviewed by the commission are those of [Cameron Todd] Willingham and [Ernest Ray] Willis. In mid-August, the noted fire scientist Craig Beyler, who was hired by the commission, completed his investigation. In a scathing report, he concluded that investigators in the Willingham case had no scientific basis for claiming that the fire was arson, ignored evidence that contradicted their theory, had no comprehension of flashover and fire dynamics, relied on discredited folklore, and failed to eliminate potential accidental or alternative causes of the fire. He said that [Manuel] Vasquez's approach seemed to deny 'rational reasoning' and was more 'characteristic of mystics or psychics.' What's more, Beyler determined that the investigation violated, as he put it to me, 'not only the standards of today but even of the time period.' The commission is reviewing his findings, and plans to release its own report next year. Some legal scholars believe that the commission may narrowly assess the reliability of the scientific evidence. There is a chance, however, that Texas could become the first state to acknowledge officially that, since the advent of the modern judicial system, it had carried out the 'execution of a legally and factually innocent person.'"
Trial by Fire: Preparing to Defend an Arson Case, Champion, April 1995, at 4
"In this article we [Larry A. Hammond and Jon M. Sands] provide an overview on how to defend an arson case. We will briefly discuss the crime of arson, discuss the specialized Fourth Amendment law as developed around arson cases, and then discuss the use of investigators and experts in such cases."
ASTM Standards for Fire Debris Analysis: A Review, 132 Forensic Sci. Int'l 63 (2003)
"The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) recently updated its standards E 1387 and E 1618 for the analysis of fire debris. The changes in the classification of ignitable liquids are presented in this review. Furthermore, a new standard on extraction of fire debris with solid phase microextraction (SPME) was released. Advantages and drawbacks of this technique are presented and discussed. Also, the standard on cleanup by acid stripping has not been reapproved. Fire debris analysts that use the standards should be aware of these changes."
Beyond the Crime Laboratory: The Admissibility of Unconfirmed Forensic Evidence in Arson Cases, 36 New Eng. J. on Crim. & Civ. Confinement 263 (2010)
"The differences between the courts, forensic scientists, and professional organizations raise continuing questions of the reliability and admissibility of evidence that has not been confirmed by laboratory analysis. Part II of this article discusses the importance of the investigative stage in an arson case, the role that canines have come to play in detecting chemical accelerants, and studies of the accuracy of their alerts to accelerants. Part III and Part IV examine state and federal decisions accepting or rejecting testimony concerning unconfirmed canine alerts. While laboratory analysis of canine alerts provides a useful second opinion as to the validity of a canine alert, it is the conclusion of this article that a careful application of the factors used by the courts that permit testimony concerning unconfirmed canine alerts to the presence of accelerants can provide the degree both of certainty and reliability that justifies the admissibility of the evidence in arson cases."
Execution of Cameron Todd Willingham: Junk Science, an Innocent Man, and the Politics of Death, SSRN (2011)
"Cameron Todd Willingham was tried and executed for the arson deaths of his three little girls. The expert testimony offered against him to establish arson was junk science. The case has since become infamous, the subject of an award-winning New Yorker article, numerous newspaper accounts, and several television shows. It also became enmeshed in the death penalty debate and the reelection of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who refused to grant a stay of execution after a noted arson expert submitted a report debunking the 'science' offered at Willingham's trial. The governor has since attempted to derail an investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission into the arson evidence presented at Willingham's trial."
Fire Pattern Analysis, Junk Science, Old Wives Tales, and Ipse Dixit: Emerging Forensic 3D Imaging Technologies to the Rescue?, 16 Rich. J.L. & Tech. 2 (2010)
"This article will explore this revolution in fire scene investigation and its intersection with the law. Part I of the article will discuss the current state of the art in fire scene investigation, including its limitations and the legal issues arising from the use of insufficiently validated methodologies. Part II will examine emerging forensic imaging technologies and their application to fire scene investigations. Part III of the article will evaluate the advantages of using 3D imaging in fire scene investigations to overcome admissibility and reliability concerns."
Habeas Relief From Bad Science: Does Federal Habeas Corpus Provide Relief for Prisoners Possibly Convicted on Misunderstood Fire Science?, 10 Minn. J.L. Sci. & Tech. 213 (2009)
"Part I of this article describes how the entire field of fire investigation has recently undergone a complete shift in methodology and foundational principles. At one time, the methods of fire investigators were rarely questioned. Now, newer generations of fire investigators are investigating whether old arson convictions were based on the inadequate methods of earlier fire investigators. Part II of this article briefly describes the prevalence of arson in the United States and a few instances in which fire investigators relied on bad science to formulate the conclusion that a fire was of incendiary origin. Thousands of people are arrested every year for committing arson, but some of those individuals may actually be innocent. Part III of this article describes how prisoners convicted of arson based on now-debunked theories can utilize habeas corpus relief. Though much of the old fire investigation methods and principles have changed, incorporating these changes into successful legal challenges to convictions is difficult. While understanding and mastering state habeas challenges to these convictions is an important endeavor, this article focuses on federal habeas challenges. Even though federal habeas petitions are not necessarily the most valuable tool for a falsely imprisoned individual, this article focuses on this type of claim because it is often the last legal challenge available to prisoners, and is therefore, arguably, the most important. Also, because the science of fire investigation has changed so much since the early 1990s, prisoners challenging their arson convictions before that time have probably exhausted their direct appeals and state habeas corpus challenges."
"Shifted Science" and Post-Conviction Relief, 8 Stan. J.C.R. & C.L. 259 (2012)
"While the following discussion applies broadly to many categories of science-based convictions, we draw most of our examples and knowledge from the field of wrongful convictions based on outdated arson science. The many falsehoods that were perpetrated by pseudo-scientists testifying as experts in countless arson cases for several decades likely led to the conviction of hundreds of innocent people. Certainly not everyone convicted during the dark ages of arson science is innocent, but the fact remains that the 'scientific' markers that were used to convict people in those years were absolutely baseless. However, only years later - as understanding of fire behavior, especially fire behavior in enclosed compartments, has grown - has it become possible to point out the shortcomings of the 'scientific' evidence that was presented in the prosecution's case at trial. Thus the category of convictions based on arson science lends itself perfectly to our central inquiry about 'shifted science': how can an innocent person wrongfully convicted on the basis of science that was accepted at the time of trial gain relief from that conviction when that science is proven false years after his conviction?"
AMERICAN LAW REPORTS
Admissibility, in Prosecution for Criminal Burning of Property, or for Maintaining Fire Hazard, of Evidence of Other Fires, 87 A.L.R.2d 891
"This annotation is concerned with the application of these general principles in cases involving the admissibility, in a prosecution for criminal burning of property or for maintaining a fire hazard, of evidence of other fires."
Admissibility of Expert and Opinion Evidence as to Cause or Origin of Fire in Criminal Prosecution for Arson or Related Offense—Modern Cases, 85 A.L.R.5th 187
"Arson investigation experts are trained to a great degree to show the exact cause and progress of fires. Since this often involves such sophisticated techniques as familiarity with electricity, analysis of debris, and knowledge of the effect of accelerants such as gasoline, arson would appear to be an area in which expert testimony would be accepted as a matter of course. Some courts have raised the issue whether the expert can testify as to whether a fire was set, since this is the job of the jury to decide, not the expert. For example, the court held in Henderson v. State, 715 So. 2d 863, 85 A.L.R.5th 713, (Ala. Crim. App. 1997), reh'g denied, (Dec. 19, 1997) and cert. denied, (May 22, 1998), that experts in arson cases should be allowed to give opinion testimony as to whether the fire was intentionally set if that testimony will aid or assist the jury. The court went on to rule that since the trial court had instructed the jury that the fire marshal's testimony that the fire was intentionally set was not conclusive and that the jury was required to determine what weight to give that testimony, the trial court did not err in allowing the fire marshal's testimony. Many other cases, however, have not allowed such testimony, or have discussed a variety of related issues as the qualifications of the experts and the quality of the investigation."
Admissibility of Expert and Opinion Evidence as to Cause or Origin of Fire—Modern Civil Cases, 84 A.L.R.5th 69
"The testimony of a qualified expert as to the cause of a fire in a civil case can be very helpful, as the average person has only a smattering of knowledge as to how fast a fire burns, how a fire burns particular materials, and the like. Firefighters, fire chiefs, and arson inspectors are among those experts whose testimony has been adduced on this issue. In many cases, however, the expert's conclusion will be challenged on a variety of grounds, as that the evidence does not support the expert's conclusion, that the expert was unqualified, or that the conclusion was uncertain and speculative. For example, in Lanham v. Idaho Power Co., 130 Idaho 486, 943 P.2d 912, 84 A.L.R. 5th 69 (1997), despite a number of contentions to the contrary, the court held that a sufficient foundation was laid for the admission of a fire investigation expert's opinion that lightning was the most likely cause of a fire on the landowner's property, in the landowner's action for negligence and breach of contract against an electric utility that maintained a power line across the property. On the other hand, other courts have reached differing conclusions as to the admissibility of the testimony of particular fire experts, as the following annotation illustrates."
Expert and Opinion Evidence as Regards Fire, 131 A.L.R. 1113
"The purpose of the annotation is to set out the cases which have discussed the admissibility and weight of expert or opinion evidence as regards fire in both civil actions and criminal prosecutions for arson."
Pyromania and the Criminal Law, 51 A.L.R.4th 1243
"This annotation discusses the state and federal cases dealing with the treatment of pyromania and pyromaniacs under state and federal criminal law."
Validity, Construction, and Application of the Uniform Fire Code, 46 A.L.R.5th 479
"This annotation collects and discusses the state and federal cases in which the courts have considered the validity, construction, and effect of provisions of the Uniform Fire Code."
What Constitutes "Burning" to Justify Charge of Arson, 28 A.L.R.4th 482
"This annotation collects and discusses the state and federal criminal cases in which the courts have considered under what circumstances there is a 'burning' within the meaning of a requirement that there be a 'burning' in order to support a charge of arson."
26 Arson Cases Stand Out in Texas...., Wrongful Convictions Blog August 17, 2012
"How many Texans are in prison for arson fires that, in fact, were accidents? Innocence Project of Texas, in conjunction with the state fire marshal's office, recently completed first steps of a review of 1,000 fires in which someone was held criminally responsible. Of those, 26 stood out because of one important factor: flawed forensic science may have been used to make an arson determination."
Arson (Truth in Justice)
"How many could be wrongfully convicted of arson? There are 500,000 structure fires overall a year; 75,000 of them are labeled suspicious. John Lentini, who has campaigned widely to improve investigators' knowledge, says most experts he talks with believe the accuracy of fire investigators is at best 80% — meaning as many as 15,000 mistaken investigations each year, and who knows how many convictions."
Arson, Fire Science, and Habeas – Case Details, CA vs. Souliotes, Wrongful Convictions Blog, July 8, 2012
"Mark Godsey recently posted an article on a US District Court ruling about a 'time-bar' exemption to habeas law in an arson case that was driven by new developments in fire science. See that post here." See also Challenging the 'Science' of Arson, The Crime Rep., May 3, 2012.
Cameron Todd Willingham: Wrongfully Convicted and Executed in Texas (Innocence Project)
"Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for allegedly setting a fire that killed his three young daughters 13 years earlier. He always claimed his innocence, and the arson investigation used to convict him was questioned by leading experts before Willingham was executed. Since 2004, further evidence in the case has led to the inescapable conclusion that Willingham did not set the fire for which he was executed. The Texas Forensic Science Commission issued its report on the convictions of Cameron Todd Willingham and Ernest Willis on April 15, 2011 recommending more education and training for fire investigators and implementing procedures to review old cases (the commission issued an addendum to the report on October 28, 2011."
Case Study Review of Cognitive Bias in Fire Investigation (Arson Research Project 2012)
"This report will review three case studies where the conclusions of fire investigators were made in environments filled with the potential for cognitive bias. The methodology used in those investigations will be compared to the recommendations in the 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States; A Path Forward (NAS Report) and the current standard of care expressed in NFPA 921: Guide for Fire & Explosion Investigation (NFPA 921).A companion report, 'Measuring the Impact of Cognitive Bias in Fire Investigation' is available at www.Thearsonproject.org."
Cases Studies (Arson Research Project)
"The cases listed below represent only a few of the unknown number of arson convictions based on unreliable evidence."
Fire Pattern Analysis and Case Study Review in Post-Flashover Fires (Arson Research Project 2012)
"Until the 1992 publication and eventual acceptance of NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations by the National Fire Protection Association, fire pattern analysis was a widely accepted method of determining the presence of an ignitable liquid. There were specific burn patterns that fire investigators believed could only be created in the presence of an ignitable liquid; therefore, if any of these suspected fire patterns were found at a fire scene, there must have been an ignitable liquid present to have caused them. Furthermore, if a fire was perceived to have burned hotter than normal, the abnormal heat was often attributed to the presence of an ignitable liquid. Because the presence of an ignitable liquid in an unexpected location is such a strong indicator of an intentionally set fire, the presence of these fire patterns and the perception of abnormal heat were considered prima facia evidence of the crime of arson. This report will examine three case studies where criminal defendants were convicted secondary to this type of evidence and review the evidence that led to each conviction. That evidence will be compared to the current standard of care expressed in NFPA 921 and the results of recent independent research where the suspected fire patterns were created in the presence, as well as in the absence, of an ignitable liquid, and where the maximum temperatures throughout each cell were closely monitored to develop a better understanding of the maximum temperatures created in the presence and the absence of a liquid accelerant."
International Network for Innocent Arson Defendants (INIAD)
"NIAD.ORG advocates for two types of cases:1) Arson Denied: fires which were accidental, and the conviction was based on junk science, investigative malfeasance, and incompetent lawyering.2) Wrongfully Convicted: arson occurred but police charged the wrong party 1) to clear the case quickly, 2) to protect the real perpetrator, 3) or to convict someone they do not like."
New Fire Science Helps Overturn Michigan Man's Murder Conviction , PBS, June 8, 2012)
"Almost three decades ago, David Lee Gavitt was convicted of starting the fire that killed his wife and two children. He was sentenced to life in prison. This week, Gavitt, now 54, was set free based on new scientific evidence proving that the fire was accidental. Gavitt's is the most recent case that highlights a shift in thinking about what causes a fire — and how what once seemed like telltale signs of arson can actually be the opposite. Last week, a Chicago-area man was released after prosecutors dismissed arson-murder charges against him stemming from a 1984 fire. And Ernest Ray Willis of Texas was exonerated in 2004 after spending almost 20 years on death row, based in part on evidence presented by renown fire scientist Gerald Hurst."
Other Disputed Arson Cases (Innocence Project 2006)
This a collection of summaries about dubious arson cases from around the country.
"Progress" in Fire Investigation: Moving From Witchcraft and Folklore to the Misuse of Models and the Abuse of Science, 4th Int'l Symp. on Fire Investigation Sci. and Tech., U. of Maryland, Sept. 28, 2010, John J. Lentini, CFEI, F-ABC
"This paper will present two old case studies, and two newer ones. The old case studies will reprise the now well known investigations into virus that resulted in the conviction and capital sentencing of Ernest Ray Willis (1986-2004), and Cameron Todd Willingham (1991-2004). The newer cases are a capital criminal case alleging arson/homicide (2001-2010), and a civil arson case alleging the use of high-temperature accelerant (2001-2006)."
Report on the Peer Review of the Expert Testimony in the Cases of State of Texas v. Cameron Todd Willingham and State of Texas v. Ernest Ray Willis (Innocence Project 2006)
"The primary goal of this review is to identify the factors that led to the conviction of Mr. Willingham and Mr. Willis and to provide recommendations that, if followed, will lead to the undoing of other miscarriages, and prevent future miscarriages of justice with respect to the crime of arson."
Souliotes v. Hedgpeth, No. 1:06-cv-00667 (E.D. Cal. July 5, 2012)
"Magistrate Judge Seng accurately determined that Petitioner made a sufficient showing of actual innocence to excuse the AEDPA's statute of limitations. [Souliotes v. Hedgpeth, No. 1:06-cv-00667 (E.D. Cal. April 26, 2012)] In light of the current fire science evidence, all qualified experts agree that they cannot determine the fire's cause and they further agree that the MPD chemicals found at the fire scene and on Petitioner's shoes are different. Without this fire science evidence, Magistrate Judge Seng properly determined that Petitioner's guilt hinged greatly on eyewitness Sandoval's testimony. After a careful and thorough analysis of Sandoval's testimony, the Magistrate Judge correctly determined that her testimony, alone, was not credible. Based on the fire science evidence, Sandoval's testimony, and the other potential circumstantial evidence, the Magistrate Judge determined that it was more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted Petitioner."
United States v. Hebshie, 754 F.Supp. 2d 89 (D. Mass. 2010)
"Petitioner James Hebshie ('Hebshie') was convicted of arson and mail fraud in June 2006 for an April 2001 fire in a commercial building in Taunton, Massachusetts. At the time of the fire, Hebshie was leasing space in the building for his convenience store, Main Street Lottery & News Store. He was sentenced to a mandatory fifteen years in prison, all the while proclaiming his innocence. After exhausting his appeals, Hebshie filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. S 2255 based on the ineffective assistance of his trial counsel. His petition raises a number of grounds but its principal focus is the way counsel dealt with scientific testimony on arson. . . . In short, I [Judge Gertner] find that due to counsel's failures, the very danger that Daubert and Kumho Tire sought to avoid occurred: Questionable theorizing about arson, about Billy's mystical prowess, and the generic laboratory results, were presented as 'science' to the jury, and as a result, Hebshie was convicted. Hebshie's S 2255 petition is granted."
DATABASES AND DATA ANALYSES
Bomb Arson Tracking System (ATF)
"The Bomb Arson Tracking System (BATS) is a web-based case management system which provides you, State and local arson & explosives investigators, access to up-to-date arson and explosives investigative data from across the nation at no charge. Unlike anything you may currently use, it's not just limited to your local jurisdiction or state. BATS provides you access to national arson and explosives incident information."
Burning Item Database (U. Maryland)
"The Burning Item Database is a collection of fire test data for commonly used household/office furniture (i.e. chairs, sofas, mattresses, bookcases, etc.) The original data were collected during furniture calorimeter tests and the BID database is constructed from a review of different sources presenting test results, including books, articles published in technical journals, and technical websites on the internet."
Data Analysis Tools (U.S. Fire Administration)
This is a collection of guides for collecting and analyzing data based on incident reports and other sources collected by fire departments.
Fire Data Analysis Handbook (U.S. Fire Administration 2nd ed. 2004)
"The Fire Data Analysis Handbook describes statistical techniques to turn data into information that fire departments can use to gain insights into fire problems, improve resource allocation for combatting fires, and identify training needs. The techniques range from simple to complex. Described are how to develop charts to provide more effective presentations about fire problems; compute simple statistics, such as means, medians, and modes; create tables and calculate different percentages from tables; and perform correlation, regression, loglinear analysis, and queueing theory. These are all techniques which can tell fire departments more about the nature of fires and injuries." See also Data Analysis Tools.
Ignitable Liquids Reference Collection (U. Central Florida)
"The Ignitable Liquids Reference Collection (ILRC) was developed by the ILRC Committee of the Technical Working Group for Fire and Explosives (TWGFEX). This reference collection stems from the pioneering work of the Illinois State Police Crime Laboratory System under the leadership of Bruce VanderKolk and Susan Johns, and the Pinellas County (Florida) Crime Laboratory under the direction of Reta Newman and Kevin Lothridge. The Ignitable Liquids Reference Collection is a compilation of reference materials used by forensic analysts to conduct fire debris analysis. The ILRC consists of a comprehensive set of ignitable liquids and accompanying characterization data used in the analysis of fire debris samples in accordance with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) E-1618 standard test methods."
Material Thermal Properties Database (U. Maryland)
"This database is a small collection of thermal properties for materials used to construct common objects found in households and offices. Thermal properties which are relevant to fire behavior include the thermal conductivity (k), the mass density (ρ), the specific heat (Cp), and for materials that may undergo thermal degradation (i.e., pyrolysis) the heat of gasification (Lg) and the ignition temperature (Tig).The database has been broken down into four categories according to material types: (1) Metals, (2) Plastics, (3) Woods and (4) Miscellaneous. For each entry, the thermal properties at room temperature and/or ignition temperature have been compiled from various sources. Some materials may have multiple entries due to variations in estimates of thermal properties from one source to another."
National Fire Incident Reporting System Version 5.0 Fire Data Analysis Guidelines and Issues (U.S. Fire Administration 2011)
"This document discusses analytic considerations and methods of analyzing fire incident data using the U.S. Fire Administration's (USFA's) National Fire Data Center's (NFDC's) National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), Version 5.0. The topics include the NFIRS 5.0 data structure, general quality assurance (QA) issues, and definitions and parameters of common fire analyses (e.g., residential structure fires or fires by a specific cause)." See also Data Analysis Tools.
Smokeless Powders Database (U. Central Florida)
"Smokeless powders are used for both civilian and military purposes. They are widely available for purchase by anyone who wants to hand load their own ammunition for recreational use. Smokeless powders may also be used to manufacture improvised explosive devices such as pipe bombs and as such are of interest to the law enforcement community. The Smokeless Powders Database is a regularly updated reference collection of information and data on powders obtained from various sources including vendors and manufacturers. It is designed to assist the forensic explosives analyst in characterising, classifying and comparing smokeless powder samples based on their physical and chemical properties. Each database record contains a photomicrograph of each powder, source information, physical characteristics as well as GC-MS and FTIR data identifying the chemical components."
Substrate Database (U. Central Florida)
"The Substrate Database was developed by the National Center for Forensic Science and the Ignitable Liquids Reference Collection committee of the Technical Working Group for Fire and Explosives (TWGFEX). The Substrate Database is a compilation of headspace GC/MS data from burned and unburned materials that are common to fire scenes. These materials may produce compounds that can interfere with the identification of ignitable liquids in fire debris. The Substrate Database can assist the fire debris analyst by demonstrating the types of compounds and chromatographic patterns that may be produced by these commonly encountered materials."
Thermal Properties Database (NIJ 2012)
"The goal and design of the centralized database was to streamline the process required to determine thermal properties and burning behavior of materials and/or objects. The database was developed in two components: a material property component and an object component. The material property component contains information on thermal properties, ignition temperatures, and critical heat flux at ignition for different representative materials (metals, plastics, woods, and miscellaneous). This component contains cone calorimeter test data in which fuel sources are described using a material-science-based microscopic perspective. The object property component of the database contains information on post-ignition fuel mass loss rates, heats of gasification, heats of combustion of different representative flammable objects. This component contains furniture calorimeter test data in which fuel sources are described using an engineering-based macroscopic perspective. Just over 500 entries are in the object property component. Each entry provides descriptive details about the item and links to published sources and available data. The database is a stand-alone tool intended for use in hand calculations and analysis by fire investigators, forensic scientists, and fire safety engineers, as well as researchers. It also provides valuable input data for computer-based fire modeling. The Thermal Properties Database will be available on the NCFS Web site for all fire investigators. 31 references and information on the dissemination of research findings."
U.S. Bomb Data Center (ATF)
"The U.S. Bomb Data Center was established by congressional mandate in 1996 as a national collection center for information on arson and explosives related incidents throughout the United States. The U.S. Bomb Data Center databases incorporates information from various sources such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the United States Fire Administration. Information maintained by the National Repository is available for statistical analysis and investigative research by scholars and the law enforcement community."
American Board of Criminalistics (ABC)
"The ABC is composed of regional and national organizations which represent forensic scientists. Each organization is entitled to one member on the ABC Board of Directors and one member on the ABC Examination Committee. The representatives from these organizations can answer any questions about the ABC, certification examinations, proficiency testing, and related issues."
American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)
"ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), is a globally recognized leader in the development and delivery of international voluntary consensus standards. Today, some 12,000 ASTM standards are used around the world to improve product quality, enhance safety, facilitate market access and trade, and build consumer confidence."
Arson & Explosives Enforcement (ATF)
"The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is the Federal agency primarily responsible for administering and enforcing the criminal and regulatory provisions of the Federal laws pertaining to destructive devices (bombs), explosives, and arson. Over nearly 40 years, ATF has developed scientifically proven investigative capabilities, expertise, and resources that have positioned ATF as the Nation's primary source for explosives and fire investigative knowledge and assistance."
Arson Research Project (Constitutional Law Center of Monterey College of Law)
"Arson Research Project examines a subject area that lies in the interface of law and science. The project's director and advisory board bring decades of professional experience relevant to the project's objectives while providing well-established contacts throughout the criminal justice and fire investigation communities." See Project Blog.
Arson Screening Project (John Jay College of Criminal Justice Center for Modern Forensic Practice)
"With the generous support of the JEHT Foundation, the Center has launched an Arson Screening Project, designed to: 1. Survey and analyze the range of 'Arson' convictions that in fact involved accidental fires, 2. Forward meritorious cases to a blue-ribbon Fire Science panel, led by Center Advisory Board member John Lentini, 3. Report to scientists and practitioners the depth and extent of the problem and develop targeted remedies." Note: The Project ceased operation in 2010 after losing its funding.8
Building and Fire Research Portal (NIST)
"The mission of the building and fire research programs at NIST is to anticipate and meet the measurement science, standards, and technology needs of the U.S. building and fire safety industries in areas of critical national need. Strategic goals include net-zero energy high-performance buildings, advancing infrastructure delivery and improving construction productivity through information integration and automation technologies, sustainable infrastructure materials, innovative fire protection, and disaster-resilient structures and communities, which includes work on hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires. NIST has specific statutory responsibilities for fire prevention and control, earthquake hazards reduction, windstorm impact reduction, and building and fire safety investigations."
Department of Fire Protection Engineering of the University of Maryland
"The Department of Fire Protection Engineering provides the sophisticated technical tools needed to safeguard lives and property from fire. Our department supports its deep connection to the current worldwide professional needs of Fire Protection Engineering while promoting an advanced research program that allows us to meet the challenges of future technological development. The department offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Faculty members are active in a variety of research and outreach programs. We welcome you to join us in solving these vital social and technical problems."
Fire Research Division (NIST)
"Fire Research Division develops, verifies, and utilizes measurements and predictive methods to quantify the behavior of fire and means to reduce the impact of fire on people, property, and the environment. This work involves integration of laboratory measurements, verified methods of prediction, and large-scale fire experiments to demonstrate the use and value of the research products. Through its programs in measurement, prediction, systems integration, and the dynamics of fire and its interactions with the built and natural environment, the division provides leadership for advancing the theory and practice of fire safety engineering, fire fighting, fire investigation, fire testing, fire data management, and intentional burning."
This site provides information on research related to fire fighting and fire protection. It includes news, safety alerts, reports and multimedia materials about the latest tactics and approaches to combating fires along with links to the following research areas: (1) Advanced Fire Service Technology; (2) Fire Behavior; (3) Fire Fighter Locator; (4) Fire Fighter Training; (5) Fire Investigation; (6) Fire Protection; (7) Hose Streams; (8) Personal Protective Equipment; (9) Positive Pressure Ventilation; (10) Structural Collapse; (11) Thermal Imaging; (12) Wind Driven Fires.
International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI)
"The International Association of Arson Investigators, Inc. (IAAI) is an association of more than 5,000 fire investigation professionals from across the world, united by a strong commitment to suppress the crime of arson through professional fire investigation. Vision of the IAAI: The International Association of Arson Investigators will be the global resource for fire investigation training, technology, research and professional development."
International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators (IABTI)
"IABTI is an independent, non-profit, professional association formed for countering the criminal use of explosives. This is sought through the exchange of training, expertise and information among personnel employed in the fields of law enforcement, fire and emergency services, the military, forensic science and other related fields."
International Symposium on Fire Investigation Science and Technology (ISFI)
"The papers from each ISFI conference are published in the official conference proceedings. Additional copies of the Proceedings from Past ISFI Conferences are available for purchase. "
National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI)
"The National Association of Fire Investigators is a non profit association of Fire Investigation professionals dedicated to the education of fire investigators worldwide. A leader in the development of NFPA 921, NAFI has lead the charge to bring fire investigation into the 21st century. Our wide variety of NFPA 921 based training programs are unmatched in the industry. From here you can join NAFI; administer your membership; read articles and research on Fire Investigation; register for training programs, and purchase NAFI Gear and publications... all from our easy to use site, www.nafi.org.This site provides information for not just for Fire Investigator but for Attorneys, Insurance Professionals, Students and the general public... anyone using the services of Fire Investigators."
National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM)
"The membership of National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) comprises the most senior fire officials in the United States. State Fire Marshals' responsibilities vary from state to state, but Marshals tend to be responsible for fire safety code adoption and enforcement, fire and arson investigation, fire incident data reporting and analysis, public education and advising Governors and State Legislatures on fire protection. Some State Fire Marshals are responsible for fire fighter training, hazardous materials incident responses, wild land fires and the regulation of natural gas and other pipelines. Most of our members are appointed by Governors or other high-ranking state officials. Some are state police officers. Many are former fire fighters. Some are fire protection engineers, while others are former state legislators, insurance experts and labor union officials. NASFM's members are the ultimate authority in our organization. The membership meets annually, elects a Board of Directors and Officers and is consulted whenever possible on crucial matters."
National Center for Forensic Science of the University of Central Florida (NCFS)
"NCFS's Mission: 'Provide relevant and responsive forensic science research and operational support to the Criminal Justice Community'."
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
"The mission of the international nonprofit NFPA, established in 1896, is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education. The world's leading advocate of fire prevention and an authoritative source on public safety, NFPA develops, publishes, and disseminates more than 300 consensus codes and standards intended to minimize the possibility and effects of fire and other risks. NFPA membership totals more than 70,000 individuals around the world."
National Fire Research Laboratory (NIST)
"The National Fire Research Laboratory (NFRL) is adding a unique facility that will serve as a center of excellence for fire performance of structures ranging in size from small components to two-story buildings. The laboratory will be led, managed, and operated by the NIST Engineering Laboratory. Research conducted in the NFRL will support the Engineering Laboratory mission to promote US innovation and industrial competitiveness in areas of national priority by anticipating and meeting the measurement science and standards needs for technology-intensive manufacturing, construction and cyber-physical systems in ways that enhance economic prosperity and improve the quality of life. Scientists and engineers from industry, academia, and government agencies will collaborate with NIST researchers on projects to address significant technical problems and fill critical knowledge gaps. International scientists and engineers will be welcome to partner with NIST in areas of mutual interest."
National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC)
"National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) is the leading nonprofit membership association representing the interests of the volunteer fire, EMS, and rescue services. The NVFC serves as the voice of the volunteer in the national arena and provides invaluable tools, resources, programs, and advocacy for first responders across the nation."
Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE)
"The purpose of the Society is to advance the science and practice of fire protection engineering and its allied fields, to maintain a high ethical standard among its members and to foster fire protection engineering education. The Society supports the development of the annual Professional Engineer licensing exam in fire protection and the grading of those exams under the auspices of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Several volunteer committees and task groups work under the Society's auspices on technical projects to further advance the state of the art. The Society's activities include a series of educational seminars and short courses, technical symposia and conferences, books and publications, designed to advance the state of the art of fire protection engineering and provide technical information to the fire protection community. The Society publishes a quarterly newsletter SFPE Today, a peer reviewed quarterly Journal, and a quarterly technical magazine Fire Protection Engineering."
Technical Working Group for Fire and Explosions (NCFS)
"The mission of TWGFEX-Scene is to establish and maintain nationally accepted programs for the forensic investigation of fire, arson, and explosion scenes and devices. Further, to promote and maintain dialogue among personnel in the public safety and legal communities. . . . The mission of SWGFEX is to make recommendations for nationally accepted guidelines for the forensic examination of fire and explosive materials and residues."
U.S. Fire Administration (USFA)
"This page contains links to non-U.S. government websites. As an entity of the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency, the mission of the USFA is to provide national leadership to foster a solid foundation for our fire and emergency services stakeholders in prevention, preparedness, and response."
Arson & Explosives Investigation Bibliographic References (Kruglick's Forensic Resource and Criminal Justice Search Site)
This is a collection of annotated references to relevant books and guides on arson investigation and scientific analysis.
Arson & Fire Books and Journals (WorldCat)
"WorldCat is the world's largest network of library content and services. WorldCat libraries are dedicated to providing access to their resources on the Web, where most people start their search for information." This global catalog contains references to materials in all formats that focus on arson investigation and fire investigation as well as arson investigation periodicals and fire investigation periodicals.
Arson Pathfinder: A Guide to the Literature (FEMA)
"This guide will introduce some of the resources available in the LRC on Arson and Fire Investigations. The various types of library materials useful in research are listed along with some examples of each type. This guide is not a comprehensive listing of sources, but is intended to be a starting point from which you can begin your research." See also Fire Service Topics.
Fire and Explosion Investigation (NC Office of Indigent Defense Services)
This is a collection of reports, DOJ publications, news and scientific articles, along with other online resources and an expert directory.
Fire/Arson Investigation Bibliography (NYS Office of Fire Prevention & Control 2011)
"This list of selected materials in the [NYS] Academy [Fire Science] Library's collection . . . . It was designed to help Fire/Arson Investigation course students find information needed for their research reports. We hope it will also be useful to students after they leave the Academy, and to other investigators." See also OFPC Library.
Fire on the Web (NIST)
"Fire on the Web is a collection of resources from the Building and Fire Research Laboratory's Fire Research Division at NIST. These Web pages provide links to fire related software, experimental fire data and mpeg/quick time movies of fire tests that can be downloaded and/or viewed with a Web browser."
Fire Protection Engineering Theses and Dissertations (U. Maryland)
This is a digital repository of graduate research conducted by students at the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland.
Fire Science Bibliography (Cal. Fire Science Consortium)
"This all-inclusive bibliographic collection includes over 1,700 citations of scientific articles relating to fire ecology and management in the western United States, many of which are specific to California."
"Welcome to interFIRE.org, the complete resource for fire services, fire insurers, law enforcement and others whose duties involve arson investigation, fire investigation safety and fire scene training."
National Fire Protection Association Catalog
"NFPA is the authority on fire, electrical, and building safety. The NFPA Catalog is your source to buy all NFPA codes and standards including the NEC, NFPA 101, NFPA 70E, NFPA 13, and NFPA 25. Plus, purchase Fire Prevention Week and Sparky products, become an NFPA member, register for Seminars, and subscribe to necplus and the National Fire Codes."
National Volunteer Fire Council Links
This is a compilation of government agencies, national and local associations, and related publication sources.
Property Crime: Arson (NCJRS)
This is an online guide to federal agencies, reports and research on fire and arson investigation.
1 See generally Michael T. Cahill, Grading Arson, 3 Crim. L. & Phil. 79 (2009)("Criminalizing arson is both easy and hard. On the substantive merits, the conduct of damaging property by fire uncontroversially warrants criminal sanction. Indeed, punishment for such conduct is overdetermined, as the conduct threatens multiple harms of concern to the criminal law: both damage to property and injury to people. Yet the same multiplicity of harms or threats that makes it easy to criminalize 'arson' (in the sense of deciding to proscribe the underlying behavior) also makes it hard to criminalize 'arson' (in the sense of formulating the offense(s) that will address that behavior).This article asks whether adopting one or more arson offenses is the best way for criminal law to address the conduct in question, or whether that conduct is more properly conceptualized, criminalized, and punished as multiple distinct offenses.").
2 See Eoin O'Carroll, Were Early Humans Cooking Their Food a Million Years Ago?, ABC News, April 7, 2012 ("Early humans harnessed fire as early as a million years ago, much earlier than previously thought, suggests evidence unearthed in a cave in South Africa.").
3 See, e.g., Paul R. S. Burton et al., Firesetting, Arson, Pyromania, and the Forensic Mental Health Expert, 40 J. Am. Acad. Psychiatry Law 355 (2012).
4 See, e.g., Mark Godsey, Family Files for Posthumous Pardon of Cameron Todd Willingham..., Wrongful Convictions Blog, Oct. 25, 2012; Petition for Cameron Todd Willingham's Posthumous Pardon, Innocence Project, Oct. 24, 2012; Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Texas Reviewing Old Arson Convictions for Suspect Evidence, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 23, 2012.
5 See generally Barry C. Scheck and John J. Lentini, Post-Conviction Strategies in Arson Cases at NACDL's Litigating Non-DNA Post-Conviction Innocence Cases Training Program, Atlanta, GA, April 15, 2010. Some innocence projects and law school clinics accept arson cases for post-conviction investigation. See generally Innocence Network Member Organizations. See, e.g., David Lee Gavitt (Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School)("Upon reviewing David's case, the Innocence Clinic recognized immediately that it arose in the dark days of arson science: During the decades when countless accidental fires were deemed arson by 'experts' who misread signs of natural fires. With the assistance of an outside lawyer specializing in arson cases, the Clinic presented the scientific evidence from David's case to John Lentini, the nation's leading expert in debunking bad arson science. He concluded that the fire at the Gavitt home was not a gasoline-fueled fire, and there is no evidence whatsoever that any crime occurred. David is innocent."); David Lee Gavitt (National Registry of Exonerations) ("On June 5, 2012, Ionia County Circuit Court Judge Suzanne Hoseth-Kreeger, at the joint request of Schafer and Gavitt's attorneys, vacated his conviction and the charges were dismissed. On June 6, Gavitt was released.").
6 See generally Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward (National Research Council 2009) at 170-173 ("[M]uch more research is needed on the natural variability of burn patterns and damage characteristics and how they are affected by the presence of various accelerants. Despite the paucity of research, some arson investigators continue to make determinations about whether or not a particular fire was set. However, according to testimony presented to the committee, many of the rules of thumb that are typically assumed to indicate that an accelerant was used (e.g., 'alligatoring' of wood, specific char patterns) have been shown not to be true. Experiments should be designed to put arson investigations on a more solid scientific footing." at 173).
7 Douglass Starr, Spark of Truth: Can Science Bring Justice to Arson Trials?, Discover Mag., Oct. 24, 2011.
8 See Phil Locke, Arson Investigation – After Decades of Junk Science, Wrongful Convictions Blog, March 2, 2012 ("James Doyle | March 9, 2012 at 8:38 am | Reply: For a brief period, thanks to the late JEHT Foundation (obliterated by Bernie Madoff) we had funding to run an Arson Screening Project at John Jay College's Center for Modern Forensic Practice. The idea was to have a central node where at least a preliminary review of the fire-science used at trial could take place. We enlisted very accomplished forensic science graduate students, without the credentials of a (say) John Lentini who you would want for trial testimony but very capable of doing the work. The Project terminated prematurely, but it ran long enough to make me a little skeptical about trying to provide a remote vehicle for these assessments detached from the trial level people, documents, etc. Better than nothing—and now there's nothing—but can't claim that we proved the concept positively. Certainly helped to prove the NEED for something to answer this problem, though."). Douglass Starr, Spark of Truth: Can Science Bring Justice to Arson Trials?, Discover Mag., Oct. 24, 2011 ("Three years ago, a few faculty members at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York set up a national clearinghouse for arson appeals and began collecting dossiers from prisoners around the country. Once they completed their review, they planned to submit the files to attorneys to take to court. 'We had about 20 cases that met our criteria for deficiency in science,' says Peter Diaczuk, a forensic scientist at the college. But the philanthropy that supported the project, the JEHT Foundation, had invested its money with Bernard Madoff. The foundation went bankrupt, and last summer the project collapsed. 'I think we were on the brink of making an important contribution' to freeing potentially innocent prisoners, says Diaczuk. 'Unfortunately for some of them, now it's as if we never existed.'"); Douglass Starr, Death of a Great Idea, Dec. 3, 2010 ("Unfortunately, the Arson Screening project died last summer  for lack of funds. The project had been supported by the New York-based JEHT foundation ('Justice, Equality, Human Dignity and Tolerance'). But JEHT lost its endowment in Bernie Madoff's illegal Ponzi scheme and canceled its philanthropic activities.").