Earliest recorded fire…

The fossil record of fire first appears with the establishment of a land-based flora in the Middle Ordovician period, 470 million years ago. The presence of land based plants permitted the accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere as never before. When the concentration of oxygen rose about 13%, wildfire became possible. Wildfire is first recorded in the late Silurian fossil record, 420 million years ago, by fossils of charcoalified plants.

Source: Wikipedia

Lightning Related Structure Fires

Fork lightning striking down during summer storm

Lightning Related Structure Fires
Andrew D. Ellison, CFEI
Timothy Morse, PhD, PE, CFEI
Harri Kytomaa, PhD, PE, CFEI
Exponent, Inc., USA

Presented at International Symposium on Fire Investigation, 2012

From 2003-2007 over 4,000 structure fires were caused by lightning annually. These structure fires caused a collective $241 million in damages each year. Lightning is considered a natural fire cause, and can damage both a structure and its contents. This paper will provide a review of lightning-related fires, as well as investigative techniques to utilize when presented with a possible lightning incident.

When lightning discharges to a structure, its energy seeks all available paths to ground. Therefore, lightning damage can be located in multiple apparently unrelated locations throughout a home. These paths often involve continuous conductive systems such as electrical wires, plumbing pipes, and ventilation ducts. As the electrical energy travels to the electrical ground, it can also jump across significant air gaps between adjacent conductors, and break down insulation.

When investigating a fire caused by lightning discharges, it is important that the investigator document the scene thoroughly. Particular attention should be given to metallic or conductive rooftop penetrations (plumbing vents, heating system flue-pipes, chimney caps, etc.) which may have been the point of entry of the lightning strike. Often, such components will demonstrate localized damage consistent with melting or other deformation which is inconsistent with damage from the fire event. Furthermore, the investigator should investigate and document all paths of electrical energy within the home that may exhibit evidence of lightning energy including those that may involve the area(s) of origin of the fire. Paths for lightning energy to ground include branch circuit wiring systems, plumbing systems, metallic structural components, telecommunications wires, etc. These paths typically include the path from the point of entry of lightning to the area of origin as well as the path between the area of origin and the electrical ground of the home.

This paper will discuss the phenomenon of lightning and how lightning energy can enter a home and cause a fire. It also discusses home construction factors that affect the likelihood of a lightning fire. This paper will conclude with some recommended guidelines for fire investigators to consider when investigating an apparent lightning-caused residential fire.

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Project Arson: Uncovering the True Arson Rate in the United States

Project Arson: Uncovering the True Arson Rate in the United States
David J. Icove, The University of Tennessee
Thomas K. Hargrove, Scripps News Washington Bureau

Presented at International Symposium of Fire Investigation, 2014

Many forensic investigators and practitioners in the field of arson suppression sense that the true arson rate in the United States is far higher than is commonly reported. This paper reports on efforts to uncover the true arson rate in the United States through a nationwide audit conducted by a national news service in partnership with a major university. Using traditional social science research methods and constructing pattern-recognition algorithms, the project focused on an examination of building and vehicle fire statistics for the 2006-2011 time period recorded by the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and the application of geographic, socioeconomic, and mortgage foreclosure data to those statistics.

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Which toy was one of the fastest and most complete recalls in the history of CPSC?

The recall of all Hoverboards (a self-balancing 2 wheeled cross between a skateboard and a Segway) may be the fastest and most complete recall in the history of the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission).  In addition to the numerous fires attributed to the lithium-ion battery powered device, there have been numerous injuries due to users falling off their hover boards. (Source: CNN, CPSC, TheVerge.com )

Meet the NAFI team: Paulette Braga

Meet the NAFI team: Paulette Braga, Professional Liability Program administrator

Everyone at the National Association of Fire Investigators works hard to make sure our members reach their goals by supporting them with a variety of NFPA based trainings, certifications, and resources. When our members have the relevant education and resources that meet their needs, we’ve succeeded! We are proud of our team and are happy to share more about them with you.
Paulette is the administrator of NAFI’s Professional Liability Program, she works for the NAFI members, not the insurance company and is here to help you ensure that you’re insured. She has 30 years of experience in areas of underwriting, loss control, department management, and field work supervision. Paulette has held a number of key leadership and management positions with well known insurance organizations and she is past president of the local chapter of International Association of Insurance Professionals. 
How did you get started working in insurance?
The General Accident insurance company was looking for a Supervisor for their legal department. A friend that I went to Alephi University with referred me to the Branch Manager who was looking for someone with experience in Contract Law knowledge. I was a paralegal at the time and I fit their needs.
What is your favorite part of working with NAFI?
I love meeting and talking with the members. I like making the members aware of how insurance coverages work and the differences in those coverages. It’s important to me that I get to work for the members, not the insurance companies, offering them competitive pricing, no additional charges for Additional Insured or Waivers of Subrogation, it really is insurance coverage written by fire investigators for fire investigators.
What is your favorite book?
“The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck
What is a quote that you live by?
If you have no will to change it, you have no right to criticize it.
If you could only watch one TV program or series for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Downtown Abbey

Investigative Bias Involving Smoke Alarms in Fatal Fires

Investigative Bias Involving Smoke Alarms in Fatal Fires
Joseph M. Fleming, Deputy Chief
Vyto Babrauskas, Ph.D.

Presented at International Symposium of Fire Investigation, 2014

During the investigation of most fires, including fatal fires, the  investigators focus almost all of their attention to the questions of cause and origin. This has been the traditional purpose of fire investigation. Because of this, the type of smoke detector involved, i.e. ionization or photoelectric, is seldom a factor that is considered important. In fact, in some cases little effort is made to determine if a smoke detector was even present. Complicating the investigation of this aspect of the fire is the fact that quite often the ceilings have been pulled down, along with the remains of the detector in an effort to extinguish the fire. The smoke detector, at least what is left of it, is buried in debris and difficult to recognize. In addition, the different factors that can affect a smoke detector’s ability to detect a fire in time to alert the occupants are not well understood. As a consequence, investigators are not aware of any reason to investigate the operation of the smoke detector.

In this paper we show why investigating aspects of smoke detector performance may be important, if not to address the cause and origin of the fire, at least to understand better the cause of injuries and fatalities. In doing this we endeavor to answer some questions that some investigators have had as to why some detectors may not have gone off in time to alert the occupants. In many cases investigators improperly assume that if the occupant did not escape, then this means that the smoke alarm did not operate. We also discuss the national statistic regarding smoke alarms and how the failure to collect relevant information may be leading to incomplete and misleading data analysis. Since Massachusetts started to collect this information and apply lessons learned to public education and code improvements, the fire death rate per capita has dropped much faster in Massachusetts, than in the US as a whole. While there may be many reasons for this, we are confident that better collection of data involving smoke alarms is a major factor.

Download the complete paper

Earth Day: Which types of trees require wildfires to regenerate?


Pine barrens, Eucalyptus forests, and lodgepole pine forests require fires to regenerate, these trees have adapted to only produce seeds after major canopy fire events.



Joel Liebesfeld, PI, MA, MAS, CES
James F. Valentine & Associates, Inc.

Presented at International Symposium of Fire Investigation, 2014

Making use of the scientific method means testing hypotheses until one final hypothesis survives that is durable enough to be sufficiently conclusive to meet the threshold of the standard of a reasonable degree of professional, scientific or engineering certainty. This paper is meant to elaborate on some common exemplar mathematical formulae and related information that, when applicable, can complement the expert reporting in subrogation losses. Proper insertion and reflection upon mathematically applicable formulae can add to the certainty of a report’s conclusion and the outcome in a subrogation proceeding.

The objective of the paper will be to turn the symbolism of mathematics into a language or a resource that can be used or extrapolated for testimony or reporting. The selected topics are those primarily seen or discussed in NFPA 921 and other fire and water related losses. In some instances the topical material presented will directly reflect on how the concepts are derived for applicable use in fire science/hydraulics. The topical material deploys mathematical notions derived from physics and chemistry that are the underlying sciences for most of the captioned losses.

Topics will include, but not be limited to, for example; detailed discussions about Heat Release Rates, Conduction, Heat Transfer, Air Flow and Ventilation, Water Flow, et al.

This paper is not intended to be a course in mathematics but rather intended to convey how specific mathematical values may be applicable, vary or can be affected by changing data related to certain nuances, such as ambient factors. These notions will be applied to selected mathematical principles that may be present in such situations as compartment or open fires, the treatment of fires, hydraulics, et al. Discussion may be extended to reflect on why certain constants are used and what they represent. Additionally, where appropriate, discussion will be reinforced by mathematical modeling. I have successfully used similar techniques when teaching adults in a university setting.

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Are you a fire investigation expert?

Abstract deadline extended for 2016 International Symposium on Fire Investigation Science and Technology.

Deadline extended!

Survey – Thank you.

Thank you for completing the 2016 NAFI Member Survey.

We will enter you in the drawing for one of three NAFI color Block Polo Shirts from the NAFI Store.

While we have you here, did you know…

Registration is open for our newest course.

1033 & 921 – Putting it Together, July 18-21 in Tampa, Florida.

The Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigators, NFPA 1033, mandates that an investigator have up-to-date training in 16 areas. This International Advanced Fire, Arson and Explosion Training Program hits all 16 and how they relate to NFPA 921. Learn more…


ISFI216 – International Symposium on Fire Investigation Science & Technology

the deadline to submit abstracts to ISFI 2016 has been extended to May 2, 2016.  Check out the conference website here.

Both of these programs completely fulfill the NAFI-CFEI recertification requirements.