Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Arsonist from the Ashes

PostedApril 10, 2004

Starting a fire isn't trivial.  Even in your fireplace, it requires technique.  An arsonist's M.O. can be reverse engineered from a crime scene by piecing together many clues found among the ashes.  D.C.'s serial arsonist reportedly uses a flammable liquid.  Fire engineers say traces of it—and any container—are likely found where the fires started.   That's all that's needed to reveal distinct chemical fingerprints back at the lab.  Meanwhile computer models can test numerous ignition scenarios using details of the torched building's structure.  Virtual outcomes are compared to actual blazes.  Such information may give investigators clues about the person behind these crimes, and the scientific evidence necessary to make charges stick.  With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP Radio.