Analysis of Post-Fire Characteristics of Portable Oil Filled Room Heaters

Analysis of Post-Fire Characteristics of Portable Oil Filled Room Heaters to Determine Pre-Fire Orientation

K. Scott Barnhill, PE
Investigative Forensic Specialists, PLLC

Presented at the International Symposium on Fire Investigation Science and Technology, 2014

A portable oil filled room heater is a steel vessel typically with 5 to 8 fins containing approximately 3 to 4 liters of mineral oil. The mineral oil acts as the heat transfer fluid that is heated by an immersed electric heating element. The outward appearance of an oil filled heater is that of an old steam radiator.

An oil filled heater (OFH) exposed to full room involvement conditions will commonly display fire effects to include: rupture of the vessel’s spot welds, localized wavy deformations to the fins in the unwetted regions of the vessel, and differential deformation of the vessel’s fins. This study addresses the post-fire characteristics of oil filled heaters exposed to full room involvement conditions in two burn cells. A primary focus of the study is to determine if the pre-fire orientation of the oil filled heater can be determined by analysis of the post-fire appearance. A description of the dynamics that occur between the wetted and unwetted surfaces when the vessel is exposed to full room involvement conditions is discussed.

Analysis of an OFHs’ post-fire characteristics, to include vessel dimensions and wavy deformations, compared to the burn cell experiment results, allows an investigator to accurately interpret the normal reaction of an OFH to full room involvement as well as to determine its pre-fire orientation (upright or otherwise).

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