A Guide for Investigating Fire and Arson

This handbook is intended as a guide to recommended practices for the collection and preservation of evidence at fire/arson scenes. [1]

Follow Agency Policies!
Actions taken following these guides should be performed in accordance with department policies and procedures and federal and state laws.

Jurisdictional, logistical or legal conditions may preclude the use of particular procedures contained herein.

Fires are destructive, spreading as they grow and consuming the evidence of their initiation. Putting out fires and finding out how they started involves public officials and private groups — such as fire departments, emergency medical services and law enforcement. Law enforcement and fire service departments must always determine the cause of the fire, whether arson or accidental, in order to identify hazards and dangerous practices and prevent future fires. Many fires can be prevented through public education — for instance, educating people on safe practices for using room heaters or other gas and electric devices.

Not every portion of this document may be applicable to all fires. It is at the discretion of responding personnel (depending on their responsibilities, as well as the purpose and scope of their duties) to apply the procedures recommended in this Guide to a particular incident. Some of the procedures described in this Guide may not be performed in the sequence described or may be performed simultaneously.

Call in Help!
For potentially devastating situations, such as biological weapons or radiological or chemical threats, contact the appropriate agencies.

Steps in this guide include:


[note 1] NIJ's Crime Scene guides were created by multidisciplinary technical working groups of content area experts from across the United States. Learn more about the Technical Working Group.

Date Created: June 1, 2009