Arson Investigations

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Arson is the criminal act of intentionally starting fires with a disregard for human life, damage to property, and/or negligence. Forensic investigations of suspicious fires require state of the art analytical techniques to detect and possibly identify ignitable liquid residues (ILRs) on seized evidence (e.g. jerry cans or clothing) and fire debris samples. Determining the presence, absence, and potentially the source of ILRs on burnt material is particularly challenging, especially in wildland and bush fires.

Chemistry Matters uses best practices in sample collection and preservation with a multidimensional analysis technique that can detect very low concentrations of ILRs that may not be detectable using conventional techniques. Our team continues to evolve the science around arson investigations by providing teaching and training, conducting research, delivering scientific seminars, and publishing our findings and knowledge in peer reviewed scientific literature.

Chemistry Matters provides scientific support for all phases of an arson investigation:

  • Creating sampling designs with appropriate references/controls for result validation
  • Recommending best practice sample containers and collection techniques
  • Documenting and maintaining legal chain of custody throughout investigation
  • Analyzing fire debris samples with comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography
  • Determining presence and absence of ignitable liquid residues (ILRs) with confidence
  • Creating a chemical fingerprint to identify ILR source and to match across evidence
  • Explaining and communicating complex results in understandable language
  • Providing expert witness testimony on arson cases and litigation proceedings
  • Legal Sampling
  • Chain of Custody
  • Study Design
  • Data Analysis and Visualization
  • Data Wrangling
  • Multivariate Statistical Analysis
  • Principle Component (PCA), Hierarchical cluster (HCA)
  • Science Communication
  • Data Science/Big Data
  • GC×GC Analysis
  • Fingerprinting
  • Arsonous Wildfires

Contact us to discuss how Chemistry Matters can help with your arson investigation.

Photos from the Field

When should I contact Chemistry Matters?

Chemistry Matters personnel can help at any phase of your arson investigation. Our team specializes in the detection and identification of ILRs on fire debris samples.

We are also experts in the collection of fire debris samples as part of legal investigations. This allows the Chemistry Matters team to provide full expert witness support from evidence collection all the way through to testifying on presence or absence of ILRs in a court of law. Our team can provide sampling designs and legal chain of custody procedures to optimize outcomes and stand up to legal scrutiny. Ideally, Chemistry Matters will be involved in the sample collection phase to ensure the proper sampling containers are used, the correct samples are collected using the appropriate techniques, samples are provided to the laboratory in suitable condition and under legal chain of custody.

What kind of arson analysis and consulting does Chemistry Matters provide?

Chemistry Matters provides state of the art analysis and consulting for detection of ignitable liquid residues (ILRs) for:

  • Commercial arson investigations
  • Residential arson investigations
  • Vehicle fire investigations
  • Arsonous wildfire and bushfire investigations
  • Alternative causes of fires – clandestine drug lab fire investigations
  • Insurance fraud arson investigations

Does Chemistry Matters provide other arson services?

The Chemistry Matters team has provided training for fire investigations groups and has provided expert witness testimony on arson cases for criminal and litigation proceedings.

How does the arson analysis used by Chemistry Matters compare to routine ASTM Methods?

Fire debris samples are prepared for analysis following the Standard Practice ASTM E1412 (ASTM, 2019a) . Briefly, a charcoal strip is placed in the headspace of the sample containers, which is then heated. The charcoal absorbs the volatile component of the sample (including potential ILR). The strips are then extracted with carbon disulfide for analysis. Although not required, we also include internal standards so that we may evaluate the sample preparation procedure.

The team at Chemistry Matters utilizes the Standard Test Method ASTM E1618 for the detection and identification of accelerants on fire debris samples (ASTM, 2019b). However, instead of analyzing extracts using one-dimensional gas chromatography (GC) with mass spectrometry (MS), we utilize comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography with time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GC×GC-TOFMS). With this multidimensional analysis, Chemistry Matters can perform the recommended data analysis procedures outlined in ASTM E1618, including evaluating extracted ion profiles (EIP) and classification of the ignitable liquid (e.g., gasoline, diesel, lighter fluid, etc.). We recommend GC×GC-TOFMS because it gives us additional information about a fire debris sample that a routine one-dimensional GC-MS analysis cannot. This includes lower detection limits, gaining a secondary retention time for increased confidence in peak identification, and the ability to generate a detailed chemical fingerprint of the type of accelerant used.

Does Chemistry Matters personnel provide sampling services?

The Chemistry Matters team is experts in how to collect and preserve evidence samples.  We specialize in how to collect unconventional samples in order to collect the most viable samples to get the best outcome for identification of ILRs.

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