Arson Investigations: Resources for Private Investigators


An Overview of Arson Investigation

Arson Investigations involve the study of fire-damaged physical evidence and crime scenes to detect arson, which is the crime of setting a fire for an unlawful or improper purpose. The techniques involved in arson investigations require a basic understanding of the chemistry of explosives. In addition, an investigator must understand the materials used to form explosives. Also, they need to understand the various ways in which explosives are interrelated and initiated.

Understanding Arson

Arson is not just a crime of destruction; it is a serious threat to life, property, and the environment. Motives behind arson incidents can range from financial gain, revenge, and insurance fraud to political statements. It is essential to investigate arson cases thoroughly to prevent recurrence and ensure justice for victims.

The Role of Arson Investigators

Arson investigators are specially trained professionals who determine the origin, cause, and circumstances surrounding a fire incident. Typically, they work as part of fire departments, law enforcement agencies, or specialized arson investigation units. Their primary objective is to uncover evidence to help identify the responsible parties and build a solid case for prosecution.

The Investigation Process

Scene Examination

The first step in an arson investigation involves securing the fire scene and conducting a comprehensive examination. Investigators must document the area, photograph evidence, and create sketches to preserve the initial state of the scene.

Fire Pattern Analysis

Arson investigators are trained to analyze fire patterns, burn marks, and the direction of fire spread. This analysis helps determine the point of origin and the potential use of accelerants.

Evidence Collection

Collecting physical evidence is crucial for building a strong case. Investigators may collect debris samples for laboratory analysis and any potential accelerant residue. Fire-damaged electrical appliances and devices are also examined to rule out accidental causes.

Interviews and Witnesses

Arson investigators interview witnesses, property owners, and individuals with relevant information to gain insights into the fire’s circumstances. These interviews may help identify potential suspects or establish motives. Learn more about interviewing witnesses.

Collaboration and Coordination

Collaboration with other experts, such as forensic scientists, engineers, and insurance investigators, is common during an arson investigation. Their expertise can shed light on specific aspects of the case and provide valuable insights.

Fire Modeling

In complex cases, fire investigators may use computer simulations to recreate the fire’s behavior and progression. This can help confirm or refute initial hypotheses about the fire’s origin and cause.

Challenges in Arson Investigations

Arson investigations present unique challenges, making them distinct from other criminal investigations. Some of the common challenges include:

  • Destruction of Evidence: Fire can obliterate crucial evidence, making it challenging to pinpoint the exact cause.
  • Time Sensitivity: Fire scenes must be investigated promptly, as valuable evidence may deteriorate rapidly.
  • Weather Conditions: Weather elements, such as wind and rain, can alter the fire scene, affecting evidence collection.
  • Legal Implications: Arson investigations require meticulous adherence to legal procedures to ensure evidence holds up in court.
  • Psychological Factors: Understanding the psychological motives behind arsonists can be complex and require careful analysis.

Reference Books

Whether you are an experienced investigator or want to offer the service to your clients, the following books will provide you with helpful information and reference materials such as:

  • How to become an arson investigator or fire investigator
  • Where to get training and continuing education
  • Using forensic science and crime scene investigation techniques
  • How to find a job
  • How to determine the cause and origin of a fire
  • Most commonly used tools and equipment
  • How to conduct a chemical analysis of physical evidence and analyze the results
Practical Fire and Arson Investigation:2nd (Second) edition
  • Hardcover Book
  • David R. Redsicker (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • CRC Press (Publisher)

Billions of dollars in property damage are caused by arson each year. The author provides compelling statistics on the threat of incendiary acts in this book. In addition, he provides practical crime scene investigation methods, forensic science information, and advice for investigating these types of crimes. Plus, the book provides specific details on the basic principles and advanced applied forensic investigative techniques.

This book’s second edition has been significantly updated from the first edition, with more than $40 in new material added. New topics covered in this book include:

  • How to use forensic science investigation methods to determine the origin and cause of a fire
  • Eliminating accidental fire causes, investigating fatal fires and vehicular fires, and documenting the fire/crime scene
  • How to take fire scene photography using
  • The importance of physical evidence preservation and the analysis in civil litigation of liability and product defects
Forensic Fire Scene Reconstruction (Fire Investigation I & II)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Icove, David (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 432 Pages – 09/07/2012 (Publication Date) – Pearson (Publisher)

This book talks about such topics as physical evidence and burn patterns on buildings and vehicles. Also, the book describes a new approach to reconstructing crime scenes using forensic and behavioral science. You’ll read about such topics as identifying fire pattern damage, human factors involved, identifying physical evidence of human activity, and applying the scientific method based on relevant scientific principles and research. This book is great for private investigators, law enforcement investigators, criminal prosecutors, and fire protection experts.

Blaze: The Forensics of Fire
  • Hardcover Book
  • Faith, Nicholas (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 208 Pages – 08/11/2000 (Publication Date) – St. Martin’s Press (Publisher)

This book, written by a journalist and television writer, examines fire investigators and their investigations. The book mainly uses research and interviews with fire detectives to help readers understand the craft. The author explains how fires are examined and goes in-depth into a large fire at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, which killed over 80 people.

Combating Arson-For-Profit: Advanced Techniques for Investigators
  • Icove, David J. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 184 Pages – 07/25/1998 (Publication Date) – Battelle Pr (Publisher)

The second edition explains preparing and presenting a case after completing the investigation. The book also includes a companion disk with forms, illustrations, and flowcharts, which are helpful to the beginning fire detective. The information in this book provides the reader with the knowledge necessary to conduct effective investigations into individuals and groups who attempt to profit from the act. The book is useful to investigators, fire science professionals, forensic science and criminal justice instructors, criminal prosecutors, defense counsels, judicial officials, and insurance investigators.

The Private Investigator Role

Private investigators with experience as firemen or fire marshals may specialize in conducting arson investigations. Often, these are related to insurance fraud investigations, or forensic investigations.

Arson Investigation Resources

The following are websites that provide additional information on fire investigations.

  • International Association of Arson Investigators – The IAAI is an international organization of fire professionals committed to suppressing the crime of arson through high-quality fire investigations. Their website has information on how to become a member of the organization. Also, you’ll find information on training, certifications, and continuing education. Plus, they have helpful information on how to find a job.
  • Mesothelioma Web – Firefighters are at risk of asbestos exposure because of its frequent use in older structures. Asbestos can linger in the air even after a fire has been extinguished. Mesothelioma Web has been one of the most comprehensive sites on asbestos and mesothelioma for over ten years. They provide information and support to people who have been exposed to asbestos.
  • National Fire Protection Association – The NFPA is the world’s leading fire prevention advocate and an authoritative source on public safety. Visit their website for information on Codes and Standards, news and research, training resources, and more.
  • U.S. Fire Administration – The United States Fire Administration is part of the Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency. They provide training and educational opportunities for the Fire Service and allied organizations. Also available are fire statistics, public fire education campaign materials, and information on funding opportunities. Federal travelers will find a directory of approved, fire-safe hotels and information on home fire safety.

Government Resources


Arson investigations are critical to maintaining public safety and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. Arson investigators strive to unravel the mysteries of fire and bring justice to those affected by these destructive acts through a meticulous and multidisciplinary approach. As technology and forensic sciences continue to advance, the field of arson investigation will evolve, aiding investigators in their pursuit of truth and ensuring a safer society for all.

If you have any questions about the arson investigation, please post a message below.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including Michael created more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at


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