It seemed like I hadn't been to an arson scene for months, in fact it was only seventeen days.

I had spent two nights a few months ago with the local Fire and Rescue Investigation Team. When I say team, I mean one. We'll call him Barney McGrew. No, No, we'll call him Sam. Yes, Sam. There is a number of Investigators on the 'team' but they often work solo, passing at shift change. Unfortunately when I spent two nights with Sam, fourteen hours each night, we didn't get a single job.

I read every Fire Brigade issue magazine going. Twice.

I am lucky enough to be able to investigate suspicious fires and arsons within my force area as a CSI. If a fire is obviously arson, then I will be the only investigator who will attend. If the cause is unknown, but suspicious, then I will attend along with a member of the Fire Investigation Team.

The initial decision on the cause of the fire will often lie with the fire crew who attend. If there is accelerant used or there is more than one seat of fire, then it's clear. It's deliberate. I'll be going.

I like to have everything I may need at a scene so I've put together a toolbox for fire scenes. It contains different bits and pieces for sifting through debris, removing fixtures and fittings and assisting with recovery of evidence. I keep this in my van and I allow my van partner to use it. I made him promise that if it gets dirty, he cleans it and if he removes something, he replaces it!

I'd heard the job come over the radio when the control room despatched officers to the scene:

"Control to Sierra Sierra One One, over"

"Go 'Head"

"Immediate response to 12 Camberwick Green, fire, persons reported"

"En route, over"

Persons reported isn't something you want to hear. It means that people are trapped inside. We race to the scene, but often there isn't a lot we can do to get people out of burning houses. That's Trumpton's job and they're very good at it. A lot of the time the Fire Brigade arrive before the Police as they will be passed the emergency call first.

The job went on for an hour or so from the initial call. Luckily, everyone was out and not hurt. A couple of the family members were taken to hospital for smoke inhillation, but that's as serious as it got.

It turns out it was arson. Two seats of fire and an accellerant was used, which meant I would be riding solo on this one.

Because I was listening to the job as I was busying myself at burglaries, I knew that I was going to get called. The officers at the scene hadn't asked for me yet, but I knew that when supervision attended, it would be one of the first things they'd request.

Arsons can take a long time to investigate, some last days. I hadn't eaten during this shift yet so I popped back to the nick. I had four salami and ham sandwiches in the fridge. Cut diagonally and wrapped in tin foil. Brown bread.

I have a litre thermos flask too. I filled it with hot water whilst I ate my sandwiches.

Whilst I was in the office, I had a look at the arson incident on the computer. Its always nice to read as much into the incident before your attend. There may be things on the incident that officers at the scene may miss or forget to pass on.

Half way through my second sandwich:

"Control to CSI Guy, over?"

"Go ahead control"

"Officers are at a scene of an arson and requesting you, over"
"Is that 12 Camberwick Green, over?"

"Yes Yes CSI Guy"

"No problems, ETA fifteen minutes, over"

I made a coffee in the flask and grabbed my clipboard.

I put the address in the Sat Nav and off I went.

When I arrived, I could see two fire tenders. There were a few firemen standing around. I wanted to see what I had to deal with before I got kitted up. I grabbed my clipboard from the passenger seat and walked towards the property.

As I got out of the van, I could feel the cold. It was dark, with orange streetlighting here and there.

There were three fire hoses trailing towards the property.

I could hear the radio in the fire trucks, giving out mainly static and white noise, the truck's engines were running, it was a noisy scene.

There were trails of water running across the pavement, desperately trying to find the nearest drain.

There were people on the balconies of nearby flats, stood watching.

I spoke to the chief fire officer who nodded towards the flat as he said "That's the one up there, my guys are standing by"

The Fire Brigade wanted to gut the flat, taking away all of the burnt material. This prevents the fire starting again from anything that may be smouldering away.

It turns out that the ex partner may have started the fire deliberately as way of revenge for the split. The split was three years ago.

An old school CSI once told me "It'll boil down to one of two things son, sex or money." I guess if you think about it, most things can be attributed to both.

Come to think of it, Jeremy Clarkson once said "Money and rumpy-pumpy are the twin engines powering everything we do"

Its decided. They're both right.

I love fire scenes, absolutely love them. Each one sets a different challenge.

The fire had been extinguished at this job, there were Police Officers speaking to neighbours and taking statements nearby. Turns out the ex partner hadn't been at the property for a few weeks, though they were still in touch.

My job was to establish how and where the fire had started and identify any offenders. Regardless of what I know, I must remain open minded about who or how this had happened.

I put a white suit on and some boot protectors. This was more to protect my clothes from soot than anything else.

The first thing I do, as with most serious or major crime jobs, is to document the scene as I find it. I did this with photographs, long, mid and close up photos.

Arsons tend to be very dark, for two reasons. The first is, the walls and ceilings tend to be burnt and covered in soot, the second, the electricity is normally damaged and off, so no lights.

One seat of fire was in the living room, beside the sofa. The sofa had been reduced to a wire frame with a yellow and orange mess in the middle. There was a mark on the wall in the shape of a letter V, this is known as a plume pattern- the V shape forms above a fire. The closer the fire, the narrower the V shape is, so these patterns can sometimes look like a letter U.

There are other fire patterns that help identify the development and spread of a fire, which I noted down.

I placed some photo markers in various places to help identify areas of interest, they also help the viewer of photos to get an idea of the layout of the property. If I get a number six photo marker in one shot, and then the next, It shows how each view relates to the other.

I always use a tripod, it's fiddly but more than worth it. I know some CSIs would hand hold the camera, but I wouldn't. I like using a flash extension cord, this allows me to effectively direct the flash and avoid shadows.

I photographed what I determined to be the seat of the fire, where the fire started. I indicated an area much bigger than required, to ensure when I start excavating the debris, I don't miss anything. This is known as the radius of error.

Once I had taken general scene photographs, I made some thorough notes.

I went to the van to get my tool box. It was nice to get some fresh air, it gets so warm in fire scenes, the heat builds up in the building. I took the opportunity to get a cup of coffee from my flask. I run on coffee.

I stood at the back of my van, between the two open doors to give me a little shelter from the prying eyes. People often see me and know who I am. Not because they actually know me, but because they know I'm the CSI.

There were still neighbours watching from the balconies.
I put a new suit on and went back in. I excavated the seats of the fire and recovered a sample of debris for accelerant analysis. Anything with accelerant on needs to be packaged correctly, we use nylon bags as these prevent accelerant leaking through the bag. Normal polythene bags would let accelerant through.

The exhibit is double bagged in nylon bags and sealed.
Accelerant analysis can be completed on an offender's clothing also.

I also recovered a partially burned newspaper, that days newspaper. It didn't belong to the occupant, so it may have been left by the offender.


I packaged this into a rigid box to enable me to safely transport it back to the office, the paper was fragile, but may hold some fingerprints.

I spent just over two hours inside the property, the photography took half an hour alone.

It was a busy scene with lots to interpret, fire scenes hold lots of information and evidence. Most people think that fire destroys evidence- not true. A lot of the time, the nature of a fire can protect a lot of evidence.

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