Arriving at the Fire and/or Arson Scene: Documenting the Scene

After the lead investigator has evaluated the scene, he or she must document the scene. He or she should follow these steps:

Note: This section of the guide is intended for the individual responsible for the investigation of a fire incident. At the time the scene is determined to involve an arson or other crime, the investigator must address legal requirements for scene access, search and evidence seizure.

Photograph or videotape the scene. The investigator should create and preserve an accurate visual record of the scene and the evidence prior to disturbing the scene.

The investigator should:

  • Photograph and/or videotape the assembled crowd and the fire in progress.
  • Remove all nonessential personnel from the background when photographing the scene and evidence.
  • Photograph the exterior and interior of the fire scene (consider walls, doors, windows, ceilings, floors) in a systematic and consistent manner. (Videotaping may serve as an additional record but not as a replacement for still photography.)
  • Photograph any points or areas of origin, ignition sources and first material ignited.
  • Photograph any physical reconstruction of the scene.
  • Maintain photo and video logs. Record the date, the name of the photographer and the subject.
  • Determine whether additional photographic resources are necessary (e.g., aerial photography, infrared photography or stereo photography).

Describe and document the scene. The investigator should create a permanent, documented record of observations to refresh recollections, support the investigator's opinions and conclusions, and support photographic documentation.

The investigator should:

  • Prepare a narrative, written descriptions and observations, including possible fire causes.
  • Sketch an accurate representation of the scene and its dimensions, including significant features such as the ceiling height, fuel packages (e.g., combustible contents of the room), doors, windows and any areas of origin.
  • Prepare a detailed diagram using the scene sketch(es), preexisting diagrams, drawings, floor plans or architectural or engineering drawings of the scene. This may be done at a later date.
  • Determine whether additional documentation resources are necessary.
Date Created: June 1, 2009