Fire Investigation report

Order Description
Investigating a deliberately lit fire – Sources of evidence 2750 – 3500 words
Based on the methodology described by NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigation (2014) and utilizing additional information that you have obtained from the Study Guide, [
respond to the following. You have been instructed to provide a report as to the origin, cause and responsibility for a fire at a particular commercial premises. Your report will form the basis for
expert evidence that you will be required to present in court and must therefore be prepared in compliance with the Expert Witness Code of Conduct relevant to your state and jurisdiction.
At 09:30 am on Thursday 2nd of May 2013, you are instructed via email by Orange Insurance Limited to attend at the scene of a building “to conduct a origin and cause investigation, providing
detailed information, as listed above, in your report”.
You are provided with the following information by way of background to a potential claim being made against Orange Insurance Limited by the owners of the building with whom a current policy of
insurance is held:

Insured: Greens Plastic Cup and Catering Supplies Pty Ltd.
Address of Insured Premises: 100 Blacks Road, Dandenong, Victoria.

Business undertaken at the Insured Premises: production, storage and distribution of plastic cups to the catering industry.

Building sum insured: $2 million.
Plant and equipment sum insured: $1 million.
Stock sum insured: $1 million.
Policy Commenced: 1st August 2011.

You confirm receipt of your instructions by return email and make the necessary arrangements to attend the scene.

When you arrive at the scene you observe that a north facing industrial building has been severely damaged by fire. The building is of steel portal frame construction and measures approximately 20m
x 80m. The walls and roof are clad with Colorbond sheeting and there are a number of clear plastic skylights in the roof. An office measuring approximately 20m x 10m is attached to the front of the
building; it is of similar construction with glass-panelled windows and a door incorporated into the front wall.

There appears to be a partial wall and roof collapse in one corner at the rear of the building in what appears to be a production/storage area. There also appear to be patterns of heat damage to
the wall cladding at more that one location in this area. The windows of the office are blackened however the roof and wall cladding appears not to have suffered any obvious heat and smoke damage.
A concreted yard, measuring some 20m x 20m is located at the rear of the building and accessed by a concrete driveway along the side. A 2m high cyclone fence encloses the rear yard and driveway,
and is secured by double opening gates at the front of the property.

The fire brigade is still in attendance when you arrive and crews are applying water to what appears to be the last of the fire at the rear of the building. Police are also in attendance and there
is yellow and red fire brigade tape at the front of the building. Several metres back from the front of the building, you observe blue and white police tape securing an area that extends across the
front of the property, including the double opening gates. A uniformed police officer is standing alongside the tape directing people to stay clear of the property.

You approach the uniformed police officer and introduce yourself. A few minutes later, a detective (Senior Detective John Brown) approaches you and indicates that he is conducting a police
investigation into the cause of the fire. You identify yourself to the detective, state your interest in the fire and produce a copy of your emailed instructions from the insurance company.
Detective Brown invites you to enter the area being secured by police. A few minutes later, a member of the fire brigade fire investigation unit and a member of the police crime scene examination
unit approach you and you similarly advise them of your interest in the fire. They explain that they will be commencing their internal examination of the building once the fire has been fully
extinguished. At this time, they say that the cause of the fire is not known and little is known about the business or the circumstances under which it occurred. You are told that the principal of
the business, a Mr Green, has not been interviewed because he is currently in hospital being treated for burns received as a result of a “barbeque accident” at his home. The fire brigade
investigator and the police crime scene examiner consent to you accompanying them into the building while they conduct their investigation.

The fire brigade investigator advises you that the fire brigade received the first of numerous triple zero calls concerning the fire at 2:05 am. He says that crew on the first responding appliance
observed a large column of smoke when they were about one kilometre from the building. On arrival, they observed flames venting through the roof of the production/storage area of the building at
three locations. While the office was not alight at this time, smoke was venting from the front door. The front gates to the property were said to be open and the first crew forced entry to the
front of the building via the office. A second crew used a petrol driven power saw to cut their way into a roller door along the side of the building, located within the production/storage area.
Crews wearing breathing apparatus then entered the building with hose lines and brought the fire under control by 3:00 am. However, some areas within the production/storage area continued to re-
ignite requiring further application of water after that time. The fire investigator added that there is an external fire hose reel located next to the rear roller door of the factory but that the
hose has been cut prior to the fire rendering it inoperable.

After completing the conversation with the fire brigade investigator, you decide to talk to some onlookers until such time as the fire is fully extinguished and you are able to enter the building.
One person, Mrs Mary Smith, is the proprietor of a small card printing factory on the opposite side of the street to the insured premises and tells you what bad luck Mr Green has had lately.
According to Mrs Smith, Mr Green moved into the premises about two years ago and business was very busy for the first year, with the delivery truck coming and going all the time and double shifts
operating most days. Then about a year ago, the delivery truck didn’t seem to be as busy, the business returned to a single shift and the car park at the front seemed to contain fewer cars. Mrs
Smith indicated that, over the past two months, she only saw the delivery truck go out once or twice. She was told by one of her customers (who services the delivery truck for the insured business)
that another cup manufacturer was selling cups to the catering industry at half the price of Greens Cups and that a lot of their clients were cancelling orders. Several other onlookers who work in
nearby factories generally confirm what Mrs Smith has said about the delivery trucks and staff numbers reducing. They also tell you that the premises have been for sale for about nine months, that
there is a boat for sale in the rear yard, and that the general upkeep of the building has deteriorated during this time.

You see a television news crew standing nearby and introduce yourself to them. They tell you that they interviewed some workers at a bakery located six premises down from the insured premises
earlier that morning as they were leaving to go home. One of the workers said that he came outside for his regular coffee break at about 01:45 am and did not see anything unusual. However, about 10
minutes after he went back inside, he heard what he believed to be a car driving away with its engine revving and tyres screeching. Not long after that, another worker came outside, saw flames
penetrating the roof of the subject premises and immediately telephone the emergency phone number for your specific state or country.

You then decide to walk around the perimeter of the property, while fire crew complete their extinguishment of the fire. You begin at the front double gate and observe a padlock and chain fixed to
the gate. The padlock is in the open position and the chain appears not to have been cut. You observe a “For Sale” sign attached to the front fence next to the gates; it appears aged and weathered
and you note the real estate agent’s details. The grass on the front nature strip is overgrown and there is an accumulation of rubbish against the fence. By contrast, the frontages of other
premises in the street appear to be neat and tidy.

On the external wall of the office, you observe an audible alarm panel with a blue light that is not flashing. A sticker for “Blue Light Security Services, 150 Red Street, Carlton” is attached to
the panel and you observe a similar sticker on a window at the front of the building. You telephone the manager of “Blue Light Security Services”, who informs you that the alarm system at the
insured premises was activated at 5.30 pm on Wednesday 1st May 2013 and deactivated at about 1.45 am on Thursday 2nd May 2013 via operation of the alarm key pad. He then advises that he is able to
provide a copy of the alarm history subject to written consent from the principal of the insured business. He also advises that his company installed the security system at the premises and that he
would be able to provide a plan showing the location of the various detectors and the zones to which they were wired; again, this would require the consent of the principal of the insured business.

You approach the front of the building and observe that the front door is secured by a hinged outer steel grille security door with a pin tumbler lock fitted. There is no sign of force having been
applied to this lock. You observe heavy tool marks to the outer metal frame of the door, mid-way from top to bottom. These marks are consistent with forcible entry by a heavy chisel like tool with
a blade width of approximately 2cm. There do not appear to be any other signs of this door being forced.

Inside the outer security door, you observe a second hinged door, of metal frame construction with a full length glass panel. This door has two locks; a double cylinder dead bolt lock and a master
keyed cylinder lock. Neither lock shows any sign of forcing. You observe heavy marks on the door frame, similar to those on the outer security door. The glass panel remains intact and there does
not appear to be any other signs of force entry on this door. You observe metal security bars over the windows of the office. The glass in these is still intact and none show signs of forced entry.
You observe a roller door on the eastern side of the building, about 10m beyond the office. The words “Inward Goods” are located above this door that is closed and shows no sign of forced entry.
You observe a second roller door on the eastern side of the building, towards the southern end, with the words “Outward Goods” located above it. A large inverted “V” has been cut through the door,
creating an opening about 2m high and 2m wide. You are able to see that there are two padbolts securing the roller door to the floor from the inside; both are in the locked position, and neither
shows any signs of being forced. An external walk around of the building reveals no other means of entry, other than the main entrance/front door and two side roller doors.

Within the rear yard of the premises you observe a parked delivery truck with the words “Greens Plastic Cup and Catering Supplies” painted on the sides. There are large oil stains under the truck
and a rear driver’s side tyre appears to be slightly deflated. The truck appears dirty and you form the view that it has been parked at that location for some time. As you walk around the rear
yard, you observe that pallets, drums, metal containers and other items are placed randomly and generally in an untidy fashion. You also observe a ski-boat on a trailer with a “For Sale” on it.
There is a considerable amount of dust on the boat and the outboard motor shows signs of corrosion from exposure to the weather.
Along the eastern side of the building, near the “Inward Goods” roller door, you observe several pallets of polymer beads covered in shrink-wrap plastic. You note the delivery date on four of the
pallets as 1st February 2013 and the delivery date on two of the pallets as 1st March 2013. According to the delivery labels, the stock is from a company known as “Plastic Wholesale Supplies” of
100 Northern Road, Moorabbin. There appears to be dust and leaves accumulated on them suggesting that they have sat in this position for some time, perhaps several months.

You contact the manager of “Plastic Wholesale Supplies”, Mr John White, who informs you that his company had a contract of delivering 12 pallets of polymeric beads a fortnight to the insured
company from 2011 to 2012. He also informs you that this was reduced to 12 pallets a month, one year ago, further reduced six months ago and cancelled two months ago. Mr White understands there
might have been some problems with one of the production lines, which had shut down due to a mechanical failure. He also heard rumours that another supplier was producing cups cheaply and some of
Greens customers were shifting to the new supplier. As you are ending this conversation, Mr White tells you he hopes the insurance company pays the claim out quickly as he is taking legal action
against Greens, because their accounts have fallen behind by more than six months; in fact, only last week process servers delivered a civil complaint to Greens for the recovery of $500,000.00 for
unpaid stock.

You are now advised that the fire has been fully extinguished and that the building has been declared safe by the fire brigade to hand over to the police. The police detective (Senior Detective
John Brown) confirms that he is now the officer-in-charge of the scene and authorizes the forensic crime scene examiner and fire brigade fire investigator to enter the building for the purpose of
undertaking a fire origin and cause investigation. You are invited to join the investigators as an observer on the understanding that police have control of the scene until such time as it is
returned to the owners of the property. Aware that this is potentially a crime scene, you agree that you will not touch or in any way interfere with anything within the premises until directed to
do so by the officer-in-charge.

You enter the building and remark to the investigators that there are marks on both doors that appear to have been made by some kind of implement. The fire brigade investigator tells you that these
marks are consistent with a fire brigade forcible entry tool, known as a Halligan Tool. He also tells you that when he spoke to the crew who made the initial entry to the front of the building,
they advised him that they had used a Halligan Tool to force both doors.
Further into the building, you observe the control panel for an alarm system located on the eastern wall. There is a keypad and a sticker “Blue Light Security Services, 150 Red Street, Carlton”
affixed to the panel. You observe no damage to the keypad or panel. You observe a number of passive infra-red movement detectors located in the office and suspect that there may be others
throughout the building, along with reed switches on each of the doors.

As you look around the office, you note that there is a lot of sooting but no obvious direct fire damage. You observe that all but one of the office filing cabinets are closed and appear to be
locked. The top drawer of one cabinet with the words “Accounts Receivable” stencilled onto it is open; you look into the open drawer and observe that it is empty. A second drawer with the words
“Accounts Payable” stencilled onto it has been partially opened but still contains a number of documents There is no obvious signs of forced entry to either drawer. It appears to you that a liquid
has been poured onto the filing cabinet with the open drawer, and that this liquid has splashed onto the carpet floor covering forming a wet patch which emits an odour that is reminiscent of
petrol.

As you look further around the office, you observe computer monitors at each of five work stations. However, only two of the work stations contain personal effects, family photographs, office
stationery and the like. The cables from these monitors appear to converge on a cupboard with an open door. You observe a dust outline on a shelf where it appears that an object 10cm x 40 cm was
once located; there are soot deposits on the shelf and also on the surface of the doors and their frames. You look into the cupboard and are unable to see any computer hard drives such as those
used to back up data.

At the reception desk, there is a large staff photograph with a person who appears to be the principal of the business seated at his office desk. Within this photograph, you observe three fishing
trophies, a family photograph, framed certificates, a photograph of a large boat and a framed sports jersey with an autographed photograph of a premiership football team. You look into office that
you suspect was occupied by the principal of the business and none of the above mentioned items appear to be present.

You then move into the production/storage part of the building with the police crime scene examiner and fire brigade investigators and immediately observe that this area appears to have been more
severely damaged by fire. A building plan on the wall of the office indicates that pre-production goods enter the building through the northern most roller door along the eastern wall, production
takes place in the centre of the building, and finished goods are stored in the area of the southern most roller door in the eastern wall, awaiting dispatch.

At the northern end of the building, you observe an area approximately 20m x 10m containing the charred remains of several stacks of timber pallets. Melted plastic covers all of these pallets
however you are able to estimate the number of pallets in the stacks from the charred timber debris on the floor and damage patterns on the wall against which they were stacked. The fire brigade
investigator draws your attention to various fire patterns in and around this area which suggest to him that this may be a point of fire origin. You also note:

– the severity and extent of the fire at this location
– various directional indicators suggesting fire spread from this area
– deformation of the roof and walls of the building
– electrical cabling passing through this area

On this basis, you also form a preliminary view that this may be a point of fire origin.

The police crime scene examiner notes some distinctive burn patterns on the floor adjacent the remains of the pallets which he suggests may have been caused by a liquid accelerant being poured at
this location. You also note an irregular trail like pattern on the floor at this location and an inverted cone pattern of fire damage on the adjacent wall.

Within the production section of the building, you observe two rows of electric powered machines which appear to comprise two production lines. Each production line consists of four machines that
are aligned along the eastern and western walls respectively. You examine the row of machines along the western wall and observe that there has been significant dismantling of two of the machines
in that the covers are open and various components are scattered on the floor. You also note that various items have been stored amongst the machines in this row, including chairs, a motor bike
wheel, newspapers, boxes of clothing, a fan, and a radio/CD. The row of machines along the east wall is much tidier however the third machine has its cover open and some components have been
removed. There are tools on the ground next to this machine along with what appears to be maintenance manual.

You observe an electrical distribution cabinet located against the eastern wall. The door of the cabinet is open and you observe what appears to be electrician’s yellow tags fixed to some of the
circuit breakers on the distribution board. While the board has been subject to sooting during the fire, you are still able to determine that a number of the circuit breakers appear to be in the
tripped position. You are also able to read a legend taped to the inside of the cabinet door that identifies the various circuit breakers and the circuits that they supply within the building.

At the southern end of the building, you observe another area approximately 20m x 10m containing the charred remnants of timber pallets that have been burnt in the fire. This area is believed by
you to be the finished goods section of the premises and the pallets are also coated with melted plastic. Again, you are able to estimate the number of pallets present prior to the fire from the
area of the residue and damage patterns on the adjacent wall. You observe that the area between these pallets and those at the northern end of the building contains a number of combustible item
that have not suffered any direct fire damage. You also note that while the skylights above each of the pallet stacks have been consumed by the fire, those between are in tact, albeit smoke
damaged. You therefore form a preliminary view that the burnt pallets at the southern end of the building may constitute a second point of fire origin.

Again, the police and fire brigade investigators note some distinctive burn patterns on the floor adjacent to the pallet stack which they suggest may be indicative of a liquid accelerant pour. You
also observe an irregular trail like burn pattern on the floor leading away from the pallets as a result of which you form a preliminary view that a liquid accelerant may have been trailed towards
the pallets. When the investigators prise up some of the molten plastic residue covering the pallets, there is a strong hydrocarbon odour emitted.

In addition to the above pallet stacks, you observe a large quantity of pallets containing plastic cups stacked to the west of the finished goods area, and identified on the factory plan as the
“workers rest and meal area”; these pallets are crammed tightly against the western wall and appear to have been stacked in a random fashion. The police and fire brigade investigators note some
distinctive burn patterns on the floor, around the base of this pallet stack, which they suggest are indicative of a liquid accelerant pour there is no fire damage to the pallets or plastic cups
evident. You observe an irregular trail like pattern on the floor and also form a preliminary view that a liquid accelerant may have been trailed towards this area as well. You follow this pattern
towards where the trail like patterns from the two burnt stacks of pallets appear to intersect. You examine the floor in the general area and observe the burnt remains of three matches. You also
observe a partially melted red plastic container approximately 2 metres from the burnt matches and detect an odour reminiscent of petrol in the uncapped opening of the container. An unburnt black
cap is present on the floor approximately 1 metre from the container. You draw the attention of the police and fire brigade investigators to the container and cap. You then photograph the matches,
container and container cap in situ before they are removed as exhibits by the police crime scene examiner.

The police crime scene examiner and fire brigade investigator advise you that they have completed their fire scene examination and that they will be advising the officer in charge that control of
the premises can be returned to the owners. You contact the insurance company claims officer from whom you received your instructions and advise them of your observations to date. You indicate that
it will be necessary to secure the scene following departure of police to enable you to conduct a more detailed examination and collect various samples for analysis. In the same conversation, the
claims officer advises you she has learnt that the principal of the insured company contacted their underwriting department two months prior to the fire, to increase the total sum insured on the
business from $2 million to $4 million, because “business was going so well” and they had purchased additional high cost machinery. In considering such an increase in the sum insured and in view of
your initial observations, the claims officer advises you that insurers will now be appointing solicitors to advise them in relation to any potential claim and that you shall be receiving further
instructions overnight in this regard.

A security guard organized by the insurance company subsequently arrives at the scene. You ensure the scene is properly secured and instruct the security guard to prevent any persons entering
without your consent and leave the scene.

You receive a letter overnight from Johnson Willis Lawyers of 50 Bourke Street, Melbourne confirming that they have been appointed by Orange Insurance Limited and instructing you to address your
report to them so that they may advise their client on any potential liability under their insurance policy with Greens Plastic Cup and Catering Supplies Pty Ltd. A copy of the expert witness code
of conduct is appended to the letter and you are instructed to prepare your report in accordance with it.

You return to the premises the following morning for the purpose of conducting your detailed examination of the scene. You carefully document, photograph and otherwise record all physical evidence
that you will subsequently rely upon to formulate your hypotheses as to the origin, cause and responsibility for the fire. You also collect a number of samples for specialist examination/analysis
to test your hypotheses; the reports from the specialists subsequently arrive and you commence the preparation of your report as instructed.
Rationale
Fire investigators rely on relevant contractual and legislation guidelines within which they must work to ensure that any evidence they gather is admissible in court. Those who encounter the scenes
of suspected insurance fraud-related fires need to gather sufficient physical and circumstantial evidence to formulate and adequately test hypotheses that the fire was incendiary in nature, and
that a person with an insurable interest lit or caused the fire to be lit, before the insurer can deny liability by applying the relevant exclusion clause in the insurance contract. The outcome of
any subsequent civil litigation therefore often depends to a large extent on the methodology adopted by the investigator and their ability to present sufficient evidence, within their area of
expertise, to enable the court to determine liability on the balance of probability.
Rationale
Fire investigators rely on relevant contractual and legislation guidelines within which they must work to ensure that any evidence they gather is admissible in court. Those who encounter the scenes
of suspected insurance fraud-related fires need to gather sufficient physical and circumstantial evidence to formulate and adequately test hypotheses that the fire was incendiary in nature, and
that a person with an insurable interest lit or caused the fire to be lit, before the insurer can deny liability by applying the relevant exclusion clause in the insurance contract. The outcome of
any subsequent civil litigation therefore often depends to a large extent on the methodology adopted by the investigator and their ability to present sufficient evidence, within their area of
expertise, to enable the court to determine liability on the balance of probability.
Marking criteria