How do you determine the cause of a fire? The aftermath of a blaze is overwhelming for a lot of reasons: physical damage, emotional damage, and more, but trained experts need to sort through that to figure out whether or not a fire was started intentionally or unintentionally in order to avoid repeat offenses. Here are a few ways that experts can figure out how a fire began.
First, professionals need to locate the point of origin of a fire. When looking at wildfires, we know they start small and gradually get hotter and larger, moving in a V- or U-shaped pattern. They often move with the direction of the wind and travel faster when moving uphill. In order to find the starting point, investigators will start at the outskirts of this V- or U-shape and work inward.
Clues to figuring out where that origin is beginning with determining the most blackened parts of a tree. The side of a tree with the most damage is probably facing the starting point of the blaze. Fires burn blades of grass from the bottom up, so fallen tips of grass that is unburned will point in the direction of the original fire.
As fires gain momentum over time, they tend to burn higher. So any unscorched fallen limbs of trees will be very close to the starting point of a wild blaze. Once the investigators have narrowed down a 100 square foot section of burned area as the starting point, they bring out the fine-toothed combs. Experts actually get down on hands and knees to search for any physical clues, like accelerants, matches, cigarette butts, tire marks, or footprints.
However, physical evidence is not enough to claim arson. This is where the real detective work begins. Eyewitness interviews and investigating motive will eventually determine whether or not foul play was involved.
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