Success Story: Identifying Ignitable Liquids in Fire Debris and Providing Error Rates for Purposes of Testifying

Success Story: Identifying Ignitable Liquids in Fire Debris and Providing Error Rates for Purposes of Testifying

National Institute of Justice and University of Central Florida


November 2016


Determining the presence of ignitable liquid residue among the fire debris in an arson investigation is a complicated forensic problem. Most ignitable liquids commonly encountered consist of multiple chemical constituents, and the presence of these liquids is masked by significant background interferences from combustion and pyrolysis of building materials and other objects involved in the fire.

Dr. Michael Sigman and Mary Williams from University of Central Florida developed a method for analyzing fire debris samples that are highly contaminated with pyrolysis interferences. The method averages mass spectra across an entire chromatographic run, and can effectively classify ignitable liquids according to the widely accepted ASTM International (ASTM) classification scheme.

“This technique provides an alternative objective method for classifying ignitable liquid residues, which is one of the only viable options for helping to progress fire debris analysis beyond a subjective comparison technique.”

- Glen P. Jackson, Ph.D. | Forensic and Investigative Science & C. Eugene
Bennett Department of Chemistry, West Virginia University

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence success story was provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this success story are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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