Fire arson is an event that occurs when a fire is intentionally set for profit, revenge or just for ‘kicks’. According to a report by Victoria Police, it has cost the state in excess of $119 million over the last 5 years1. Crime Statistics Victoria reported 3,101 incidents of arson in the year of 20172, with the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research reporting 5,862 incidents of arson in NSW during 2017 alone3. UK figures4 would suggest that more than 40% of fires in business premises and more than 20% in residential properties are intentional.
Arson investigations are particularly challenging because the evidence is often destroyed during the fire and the efforts of the fire brigade to extinguish the blaze. Investigations preceding the event can last for significant time periods as investigators have to sift through debris to find chemicals that may have been used as the accelerant. These accelerants are hydrocarbon-based fuels such as gasoline (petroleum), diesel fuel, kerosene, turpentine, butane, and various other flammable solvents collectively known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Trained sniffer dogs can be used as a traditional resource for tracing accelerants, however, these dogs may not be available when needed or have insufficient, unsafe access.
To overcome these challenges at fire scenes investigators recommend a tool known as the photoionisation detector (PID) which has already proven to be an ideal solution for the detection of relatively low-level VOCs for health & safety and environmental applications. These devices are highly sensitive, battery-powered and portable making them a great choice for rapid and safe deployment to test areas between floors boards and under carpets where residual traces of accelerant may remain. PIDs are also non-destructive and will not affect air sample which can be captured for further lab analysis and they also reduce the quantity and cost of lab samples required to reach a conclusion as to the cause of the fire.
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