Arson Awareness Week

Vehicle fire investigative hints and successful practices

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Investigative hints for suspected vehicle arson

Investigating vehicle arson can be difficult. Multiple points of origin are common because of all the natural accelerants in a vehicle. The fire itself destroys potential evidence. There are several fuel sources, including gasoline, wiring, and both interior and exterior components. There are numerous ignition sources, including the engine, electrical systems and exhaust parts. The significant electrical wiring system has to be completely evaluated, which is both time-consuming and physically difficult. Compact structures, such as vehicles, burn quickly and completely and are extremely difficult to investigate.

If you suspect a vehicle arson:

Source: InterFIRE

Successful practices in vehicle fire investigation and prevention

Essex County, New Jersey — Vehicle Fire Initiative

Essex County’s geographic location and network of highways (three interstates and the Garden State Parkway) make it an easily accessible and inviting locale for individuals looking for a place to burn a vehicle. The Essex County New Jersey Vehicle Fire Initiative receives the benefit of continuing financial assistance from the New Jersey Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor. The Vehicle Fire Initiative continues its groundbreaking work in the investigation of insurance-related vehicle fires. This highly technical and painstaking investigative and prosecutorial effort has made the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office the subject of several complimentary press reports. In the present difficult economic climate, these efforts will be redoubled to identify and prosecute those cases in which fire is used to get out from under burdensome lease or financing payments.

The Arson Task Force’s expertise and determination in the investigation and prosecution of vehicle fires is evident in the case where a vehicle was set on fire in broad daylight in Irvington, with the unidentified perpetrator fleeing in another car. A quick response by Arson Task Force investigators resulted in retrieval of a discarded glove at the scene. This key evidence was submitted to the New Jersey State Police Lab for DNA analysis, which matched it to the defendant. The defendant was later convicted and is presently serving a five-year state prison sentence.

Las Vegas Police

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has a special detail within its Property Crimes Section called the Vehicle Investigations Project for Enforcement and Recovery (VIPER). The VIPER Auto Theft Task Force involves officers from Metro, North Las Vegas, Henderson and the Nevada Highway Patrol, including the use of helicopters to scan remote portions of the deserts surrounding Las Vegas.

A common scenario is when a VIPER investigator receives a report of a car fire in the desert located more than 50 miles from downtown. It’s often a late model luxury car or SUV reported stolen by the owner. Officers arrive to see the car on fire, but it hasn’t been stripped of valuable parts ranging from audio systems to transmissions. The cars were set on fire to avoid excessive car payments or lease penalties or to try to get some cash out of the insurance companies. They have received hundreds of these calls per month.

Many of these desperate people are regular citizens not accustomed to lying to the police and much less familiar with the means of successfully setting a car ablaze. Officers interview suspects with telltale signs, such as burns or the scent of of accelerants.

Montgomery County, Maryland – Vehicle Anti-Theft and Vehicle Arson Task Force

The Montgomery County Fire and Explosives Investigation Section and the Montgomery County Police Centralized Auto Theft Section have created a task force to combat vehicle arsons and theft. The Vehicle Anti-Theft and Vehicle Arson Task Force and the Maryland/District of Columbia Anti-Car Theft Committee (MD/DC ACT) are committed to protecting the community from individuals who victimize the owners of vehicles in Maryland. The MD/DC ACT has provided funding for telephone lines and reward money for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of individuals responsible for vehicle-related arsons in Montgomery County. There are approximately 200 vehicle fires in Montgomery County each year. Nationally, nearly 1 out of 5 fires involves a vehicle, and 1 out of 8 fire deaths results from a vehicle fire. Anyone who has information about a fire in Montgomery County is urged to call an arson tip line.