Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation: 2nd Edition (Hardback) book cover

Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation

2nd Edition

By John J. Lentini, John J. Lentini

CRC Press

646 pages | 529 Color Illus.

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Hardback: 9781439875988
pub: 2012-10-02
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pub: 2012-10-02
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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 provides a resource that is unparalleled in depth and focus.

The book explores:

  • The history of fire investigation and the basic chemistry and physics of fire
  • The science of fire dynamics—how things burn and how they interact with their surroundings while doing so
  • Practical procedures for conducting fire scene inspections
  • Laboratory examination of fire debris to test for the presence of ignitable liquid residues and for potential ignition sources
  • Relevant scientific principles as applied to 30 actual fires
  • The evolution of the mythology of arson investigation
  • The common root causes of errors in fire investigation

The final chapter discusses the professional practice of fire investigation. It examines quality assurance, business practices, and the fundamentals of being an expert witness, with advice for giving testimony in depositions and at trial. Other highlights of the second edition include new and expanded discussions on novel training methods, first assumptions, computer fire modeling, low voltage ignition sources, the questionable validity of some origin determinations, and recent changes in NFPA 921.

Thorough and accessible, this volume not only provides the practical information necessary to conduct an effective inquiry but also offers insight into the science, history, and theory behind what makes fire investigation a multi-faceted profession.

John Lentini discusses the book in a video on the CRC Press YouTube Channel.

Table of Contents

Fire and Science


Argument versus Experiment

Fire and the Enlightenment

Scientific Approach to Fire Investigation

Modern Fire Analysis

NFPA 921

NFPA 1033

Science, Law, and Law Enforcement

Chemistry and Physics of Combustion

Fire and Energy

Basic Chemistry

States of Matter

Behavior of Gases

Stoichiometry and Flammable Limits

Behavior of Liquids

Behavior of Solids

Fire Dynamics and Fire Pattern Development



Self-Heating and Spontaneous Ignition

Chemical Ignition

Smoldering Ignition



Compartment Fires

Plume Pattern Development

Ventilation Pattern Development

Penetrations through Floors

Horizons, Movement, and Intensity Patterns

Clean Burn

Electrical Patterns

Fire Modeling

Fire Investigation Procedures

Recognize the Need

Presumption of Accidental Cause: The Null Hypothesis

Negative Corpus Methodology

Planning the Investigation

Initial Survey: Safety First




Avoiding Spoliation

Origin Determination

Evidence Collection and Preservation

Fatal Fires

Hypothesis Development and Testing

Reporting Procedure

Record Keeping

Analysis of Ignitable Liquid Residues

Evolution of Separation Techniques

Evolution of Analytical Techniques

Evolution of Standard Methods

Isolating the Residue

Initial Sample Evaluation

ILR Isolation Method Selection

Solvent Selection

Internal Standards

Advantages and Disadvantages of Isolation Methods

Analyzing Isolated ILR

Criteria for Identification

Improving Sensitivity

Estimating the Degree of Evaporation

Identity of Source

Reporting Procedures

Record Keeping

Quality Assurance

Evaluation of Ignition Sources

Joint Examinations of Physical Evidence

Appliances and Electrical Components

Electronic Device Reliability and Failure Modes

Kitchen Ranges

Coffee Makers

Deep Fat Fryers

Space Heating Appliances

Water Heaters

Clothes Dryers

Fluorescent Lights

Recessed Lights

Exhaust Fans

Service Panels

Oxygen Enrichment Devices

Testing of Ignition Scenarios

Spontaneous Ignition Tests

Following Up

Thirty Fire Scene Scenarios


Arson Fire #1: The Fictitious Burglar

Arson Fire #2: Unexplained Accelerants

Arson Fire #3: Unpleasant Neighbors

Arson Fire #4: Accidental Causes Eliminated

Dryer Fires

Dryer Fire #1: Misrouted Power Cord

Dryer Fire #2: Cross-Threaded Connection

Dryer Fire #3: Spliced Power Cord

Dryer Fire #4: Internal Power Wire Comes Loose

Electrical Fires

Electrical Fire #1: Energized Neutral

Electrical Fire #2: Worn-Out Outlet

Electrical Fire #3: Makeshift Extension Cord

Electrical Fire #4: Failed Transformer

Electrical Fire #5: Overdriven Staple

Fluorescent Light Fires

Fluorescent Light Fire #1: Ballast Failure

Fluorescent Light Fire #2: Overheated Lamp Holder

Gas Fires

Gas Fire #1: Leak in Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing Line (and Failure to Inspect)

Gas Fire #2: Leak at New Flare Fitting

Gas Fire #3: Overfilled Cylinders

Gas Fire #4: New Installation, Open Line

Heater Fires

Heater Fire #1: Combustibles on Floor Furnace

Heater Fire #2: Portable Heater Ignites Cardboard

Heater Fire #3: Contents Stacked in Front of Heater

Industrial Fires

Industrial Fire #1: Machine Shop Spray Booth

Industrial Fire #2: Waste Accumulations on Roof

Industrial Fire #3: Design Flaw in Printing Machine

Industrial Fire #4: Hydraulic Fluid Fire

Industrial Fire #5: Another Chicken Story

Lightning Fires

Lightning Fire #1

Lightning Fire #2

Water Heaters

Water Heater Fire #1

The Mythology of Arson Investigation

Development and Promulgation of Myths


Crazed Glass

Depth and Location of Char

Lines of Demarcation

Sagged Furniture Springs


Fire Load

Low Burning and Holes in the Floor

Angle of V

Time and Temperature

Sources of Error in Fire Investigation


Overlooking Critical Data

Misinterpreting Critical Data

Misinterpreting Irrelevant Data

Ignoring Inconsistent Data

Two-Dimensional Thinking

Poor Communication

Faulty Chemistry or Engineering

Evaluating Allegations of Arson

Is This Arson Call Based Entirely on the Appearance of the Burned Floor in a Fully Involved Compartment?

Is This Arson Call Based on "Low Burning," OR Crazed Glass, OR Spalling, OR "Shiny Alligatoring," OR a "Narrow V-Pattern," OR "Melted/Annealed Metal?"

Is This Arson Call Based on an Unconfirmed Canine Alert?

Is This Arson Call Based on a Fire that "Burned Hotter than Normal" or "Faster than Normal?"

Do Neutral Eyewitnesses Place the Origin of the Fire Somewhere Other than Where the Arson Investigator Says It Was Set?

Is This Arson Call Based Entirely or Largely on a Mathematical Equation or a Computer Model?

Investigations Gone Wrong

State of Georgia v. Weldon Wayne Carr

Maynard Clark v. Auto Owners Insurance Company

Error Analysis

United States v. Kenneth and Ricky Daniels and Daniels v. Liberty Mutual, et al.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Louis DiNicola

State of Arizona v. Ray Girdler

Hanley v. Prudential Insurance

Howell Business Forms v. Vik Brothers Insurance Group

Eve and Manson Johnson v. Florida Farm Bureau

State of Georgia v. John Metcalf and Kimberly Post

State of North Carolina v. Jermaine Antoine Smith

United States v. Michael Weber

Stark County Port Authority v. Railway Properties, Ltd.

State of Louisiana v. Amanda Gutweiler

The Professional Practice of Fire Investigation


Identifying Your Stakeholders

Doing Consistent Work

Business Practices

Pro Bono Work

Serving as Expert Witness



Courtroom Testimony


About the Authors

John J. Lentini has been at the center of most of the important developments in fire investigation in the past 30 years. He began his career at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Laboratory in 1974. He has been at the center of the standardization of both laboratory and field investigations of fires. As co-chair of the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) Forensic Science Committee, he was the principal author of the first laboratory standards published by the IAAI in 1988. He was the first civilian elected to the ABC Board of Directors and among the first group of individuals certified by the ABC as Fellows in fire debris analysis.

He has been a contributor to the development of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 921, Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, and a member of the NFPA’s Technical Committee on Fire Investigations since 1996. His study of the Oakland Hills fire in 1991 resulted in a rethinking of much of the conventional wisdom in fire investigation, and his laboratory work has resulted in research papers that are standard works in the field. He is a frequent invited speaker on the subject of the standard of care in fire investigation and laboratory analysis of fire debris, as well as on the progress of standardization in the forensic sciences.

About the Series

Protocols in Forensic Science

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / Forensic Science