Cigarettes and Fires
T HE O FFI C I AL PUB L I CAT I O N OF T H E SA N LUI S O B I SP O F IR E
T H E O F F I C I A L P U BT LHI EC AOT FI FO I NC I OA FL TP HU EB LS I AC NA IT LNI UOV INES S OTO IFBGITASHTPEI OO SNFA I NSR TELR UI KI SE OT EB AI SMP O F I
I NV E ST I G AT I O N ST R IK E T EA M
I N V ESTI GATION STR I K E TE AM
cigarettes and fires
Volume 2, Number 1 // December 2015
slo f is t. or g
SLOFIST Executive Staff
John Madden, President/Chief Executive Officer
Barb Kessel, Chief Financial Officer
Dr. Elayne Pope, Vice President - Training and Education
Bob Adams, Vice President - Operations/Field Operations
Stuart MacDonald, Vice President - Administration
Dr. Robert Kimsey, Secretary - Forensic Sciences Director
Inside this Issue of Flash Point
This issue kicks off a new look to the newsletter, which was
pulled out of the box, dusted off and revitalized — for the
purpose of keeping issues central to fire and death
investigation current and interesting. This issue looks at fire
origins starting with cigarettes and moving on to intentional
and natural fires and the consequences.
President’s Message....................Page 1
Scott Hall, Vice President - Safety
Cover Story ...................................Page 2
Brian Parker, Classroom Instruction
Nancy Acebo, Locating the Dead Instructor
e-Cigarette Explosions................Page 4
Kevin McBride, Hotel Liaison
Dennis Byrnes, Logistical Operations
Mike Whitney, Videography and Medical Education CEUs
Jamie Novak, Photographic Documentation
Russ Auker, Vehicle Fire Course
Headlines & News .......................Page 12
Jeremy Davis, Marketing/Thermocouple Data Collection
Eric Emmanuele, Marketing/Live X-Ray Data Collection
Jeff Nichols, SLO Sheriff’s Department, Coroner Division
Book Reviews ...............................Page 16
Dr. Lynn Kimsey, Staff Photographer
SLOFIST is a 501(c)(3) Non-profit organization
Box 1041, Atascadero, California 93423
Copyright 2016, SLOFIST
New Technology ..........................Page 18
A NPL U
the I S S
OI S O B I S P O
N VTE SI T G
NI K E ST ETA M
As 2016 takes off, we are making a few changes — all of which are for the better. With any change,
there will be adjustments and new hurdles, so hang in there with us. As you are likely familiar, we have
been blessed with the use of property at Camp San Luis Obispo for the last several years. However, due
to contractual issues and agreements between state and local agencies, we are no longer able to use
this property in the same manner. As a result, we are relocating, but not too far away. We will be in
the same general area, but on CalFire property to the north behind Cuesta College. In addition, the
following changes are on the horizon:
• The classes we have offered have blossomed from the core Forensic Fire Death Investigation Course we
started with eight years back. This year, we will be offering a new CSI component to the training
curriculum. Stay tuned for more information to follow on this.
• Time and resources are necessary for this new CSI component, which will also open up a wonderful new
ability for more entomological studies with Dr. Bob Kimsey and his talented team of assistants.
• We continue to offer the Forensic Vehicle Fire Investigation Course separate from FFDIC. The basics
explained in this course are fundamental to understanding the nuances of fires associated with vehicles.
• Since you are reading this, you are undoubtedly aware that we have decided to support a regular
newsletter. We started out with one in 2011, but put it into hibernation until now. We have decided to
give it a go again this year along with several other new changes. I am excited about this possibility and
make an open invitation to individuals interested in writing an article or advertising their product. If you
are interested in either of these, please contact the newsletter editor at [email protected] or
me for further discussion.
In closing, I welcome the changes and new direction we have for 2016 and beyond. Thank you for
allowing us to get to where we are as well as being a part of our exciting future.
SLOFIST President and Chief Executive Officer
HISTORY AND MISSION:
The San Luis Obispo Fire Investigation Strike Team (SLOFIST) was formed in 1994 filling the need of providing qualified
public safety personnel with an expertise in fire-related investigations to San Luis Obispo County’s local jurisdictions.
SLOFIST Task Force members are working public investigators who conduct investigations of fire scenes for determination of
fire origin and cause, explosions for determination of cause and identification, preservation and collection of evidence
related to explosions, hazardous materials incident and any other investigations. In 2008, SLOFIST Inc. was created as a
501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The corporation is the training arm of the task force for all outside training.
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 1
C o ve r St o r y : C igarettes are causing few er w ildfires, but w h y ?
by Sarah Farmer, Science Delivery / January 13, 2015 / srs.fs.usda.gov
The number of wildfires caused by cigarettes has fallen drastically. “Since 1980, smoking-caused wildfires fell by 90
percent,” says U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientist Jeffrey Prestemon. “Until recently, little has
been known about why, and other causes of wildfire have not experienced this level of decline.”
Prestemon, project leader of the SRS Forest Economics and Policy unit, recently coauthored a modeling study on
smoking-caused wildfires. The study was led by David Butry, an economist at the National Institute of Standards and
Technology, and published in the International Journal of Wildland Fire. The scientists evaluated three possible reasons
for the decline in smoking-caused wildfires: national requirements for less fire-prone cigarettes, better methods of
identifying the causes of wildfires, and a decline in the number of smokers.
“We found that 10 percent of the decline – a small but meaningful factor – is because fewer people smoke,” says
Prestemon. Since the 1980s, the number of adults who smoke cigarettes has fallen from 33 percent to 19 percent, and
teen smoking rates have fallen as well. Starting in 2004, states began requiring cigarettes to be self-extinguishing, so
less prone to cause fires. The advent of self-extinguishing cigarettes led to a 23 percent decrease in the number of
cigarette-caused wildfires. “The size of this effect was surprising,” says Butry. “Less fire-prone cigarettes were designed
to reduce smoking fatalities in homes, but clearly they have had other, unexpected benefits.”
Billions of cigarettes are discarded outdoors each year, and before the widespread use of less fire-prone cigarettes,
they were more likely to smolder, sometimes igniting nearby vegetation. Under laboratory conditions, less fire-prone
cigarettes self-extinguish over 75 percent of the time. When discarded by roadsides or outdoors, they usually do not
continue to burn, although scientists are not sure how many discarded cigarettes self-extinguish. Nevertheless, the
likelihood of a discarded cigarette starting a wildfire has always been small compared to other causes of wildfire.
The most significant reason for the decline is that investigators now have better ways to tell how a wildfire began. “As
many as half of wildfires once considered smoking-caused were actually started by something else,” says Prestemon.
And while understanding the causes of wildfire ignition does not reduce the actual number of fires, there are other
benefits. “Better investigations and fire classification mean that wildfire prevention specialists can better target their
messages at the causes most likely to yield the biggest gains in preventing unwanted fires on our public and private
lands,” says Prestemon.
The cumulative impacts from reduced smoking, less fire-prone
cigarettes, and improved fire investigation methods include
economic benefits. Across national forests and grasslands of
the 12 states studied (which included Kentucky, Oklahoma,
and Texas), $3.5 million in fire-fighting and rebuilding costs
were avoided due to the decline in smoking-caused wildfires.
“We contend that these benefits are accruing nationwide, not
just in the public lands of states analyzed in our study,” says
Prestemon. Click here to: Read the full text of the article. For
more information, email Jeffrey Prestemon at
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 2
Cigarettes and Fires — Getting the Word Out, Close to Home
Fire safety outreach materials: Smoking PSAs - Do they work?
As a member of the fire service, you know all too well the dangers of unattended or improperly discarded smoking
materials. These free resources are yours to use when educating smokers about the importance of practicing fire safety.
For more resources, go to https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 3
I N V E S
G A T I O
by Scott MacFarlane // NBCWashington.com // November 11, 2015
Fire officials are warning e-cigarette users against modifying or altering the devices following a
report about fires and explosions.
Fire Officials Warn Against Altering E-Cigarettes After Explosions
In the News—Electronic Cigarette Fires and Explosions
Federal investigators documented at least 25 incidents of fires or explosions triggered by
misused or malfunctioning electronic cigarettes. The U.S. Fire Administration, which issued a
report detailing some of those incidents, specifies many of the fires or explosions were triggered
while users were charging the devices.
An I-Team review of Maryland State Police reports revealed a recent explosion incident in Garrett
County. Gina Kisner and her husband called the state fire marshal after an e-cigarette exploded
while charging in a home computer. The incident triggered a fire inside their Oakland home and
nearly spread to an oxygen tank her husband was using for breathing.
“(My husband) was using this device to stop smoking,” Kisner said. “It just shot across the room.
It was a big bang right beneath his bed. The carpet caught fire.”
The U.S. Fire Administration’s review of fire incidents said fires are rare, but nevertheless
dangerous. According to the agency’s report, “Most of the incidents resulted in ignition of nearby
contents, such as carpets, drapes, bedding, couches or vehicle seats. Fortunately, users were
generally nearby when the incident occurred.”
The Office of the Maryland State Fire Marshal said most fires or explosions involving e-cigarettes
occur because users attempt to manipulate or alter the device. In some cases, the fires are
ignited by the use of improper charging cords, some of which are much too powerful to be used
In other recent incidents, electronic cigarettes exploded in the faces of users. One Florida man
was put into a coma by the force of the explosion. In another Florida case, which was detailed by
the U.S. Fire Administration report, a user lost teeth and part of his or her tongue when a device
exploded during usage.
Sean Robinson, owner of the District Vapes shop in Northeast D.C., said novice e-cigarette users
are sometimes tempted to doctor the devices. “They usually want more sensation,” Robinson
said. “They want more flavor. So instead of buying a better device, they try to modify the one
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 4
Fire Officials Warn Against Altering E-Cigarettes After Explosions (continued)
Robinson said he warns customers against doing so and offers to make any needed adjustments to
devices free of charge for his customers.
The Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, an industry group representing electronic cigarette
manufacturers, issued a statement to the News4 I-Team about fire risks:
“As with other rechargeable electrical equipment, consumer goods such as laptops and cellphones, we
recognize that there have been reported instances of lithium ion batteries malfunctioning, in this case with
the use of modified vaporizers. While these incidents are taken very seriously, millions of former smokers
across the United States and overseas continue to use these products as intended and have found vaping to
be a significant alternative to combustible cigarettes.”
A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs said, “Always use the charging device that
comes with the appliance and to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the use of the charger and
the e-cigarette appliance.”
The e-cigarette industry is operating free of government regulations.
Though some rules are
reportedly under consideration, a spokesman for the United States Food and Drug Administration told
the I-Team, “Currently, these products are not regulated by anyone.”
“We understand the manufacturers of the e-cigarettes are aggressively addressing the issues related
to these products and some of the incidents that have occurred involved improper charging devices or
modifications by the end user to the e-cigarette itself,” Maryland State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci
said. “Although incidents in Maryland have been exceedingly rare, the potential still exists for an
accidental fire related incident to occur. We recommend, as with any electrical appliance, to please
read and follow manufacturers’ guidelines when choosing to purchase and use the products.”
The US Fire Administration has an excellent resource on e-cigarettes and explosions located here e_cig_explosions
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 5
Electronic Cigarette Explosions Making Headlines
E-cigarette explosions prompt three lawsuits in California
Hailey Brnson-Potts / latimes.com / November 15, 2015
the suits allege the e-cigarettes
and their components, including
lithium ion batteries and
chargers, were unsafe and that
the businesses in the supply
chains failed to properly warn of
the defects. Employees at Luxor
Cafe & Vape Lounge and Vape
Fame said they were unaware of
Garza’s lawsuit. Other
defendants in his and the other
suits could not be reached for
Vicente Garza was getting ready for
bed in his Bakersfield home when
he decided to use an electronic
cigarette. He lifted the device to
his mouth, pushed the vapor button
and started to inhale. Then it
exploded near his face, badly
burning his mouth and dominant
left hand, which was holding the
device. Doctors amputated Garza’s
left index finger, and he had to
undergo immediate surgery on his
tongue after the Oct. 16 incident.
He still can barely eat.
Garza’s attorney, Gregory L.
Bentley, said Thursday that he had
filed a product liability lawsuit
against the e-cigarette’s
manufacturer and designer,
Flawless Vapes & Supplies, LLC; the
Bakersfield store where Garza
bought the battery and device,
Luxor Cafe & Vape Lounge; and the
Bakersfield store where he bought
his e-cigarette charger, Vape
Fame. “I never in my life thought
that something like this would
happen,” Garza, 23, said at a
Glendale news conference
Garza’s is one of three e-cigarette
explosion lawsuits filed by
Bentley this week in Kern and
Orange counties. “E-cigarette
explosions are becoming all too
common as this industry is taking
off,” Bentley said. “Consumers
have the right to expect that
products have been properly
designed, manufactured tested
for safety before they are put into
“it exploded near his face, badly
burning his mouth and
dominant left hand, which was
holding the device”
E-cigarettes constitute a
multibillion-dollar industry, with
millions of users, according to a
2014 report on e-cigarette fires
and explosions by the U.S. Fire
Administration. The report said
e-cigarettes use lithium ion
batteries that include flammable
liquid electrolytes that can
explode when they overheat,
such as when they receive too
much voltage while charging.
Despite huge sales, the fledgling
industry is largely unregulated,
with few safeguards for
consumer protection, Bentley
In September, a Riverside
County Superior Court jury
awarded a client of Bentley's,
Jennifer Ries, nearly $1.9 million
after she sued the distributor,
wholesaler and store where she
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 6
Electronic Cigarette Explosions Making Headlines
bought the gaping devices that exploded. She was badly burned after a charging e-cigarette battery
caught fire in her car. Bentley said that was the first e-cigarette explosion lawsuit to be tried in the
country and that his phone has since been ringing nonstop with similar cases.
Bentley this week filed a suit in Kern County on behalf of Bakersfield resident Gregory Phillips, Jr., whose
leg was burned in September when an e-cigarette battery exploded in his pocket. He required skin
grafts. Phillips is suing the device’s seller, Bakersfield store Cigarette World 4.
Bentley also filed suit this week in Orange County Superior Court on behalf of retired former Los
Angeles Galaxy soccer player Daniel Califf. In February, Califf was using an e-cigarette when it exploded
near his face, blasting a large hole in his cheek. It gave him a concussion and set the room on fire, the
suit alleges. Califf is suing the distributor of one of the device’s components, Washington-based UVAPER
Inc., and the seller, Newport Beach-based 32nd Street Vapors, which closed but is now doing business
as R&D Creations, according to the attorney.
E-cigarettes banned from checked bags on planes
Hugo Martin / latimes.com / November 1, 2015
Add something to the list of things you can't pack in your checked bag before a flight: electronic
The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a final rule last week prohibiting any battery-powered
portable electronic smoking devices from being packed in a checked bag.
In addition, the federal agency has prohibited passengers and crew members from charging the
devices or their batteries in the plane.
Why? E-cigarettes have been known to catch fire. A federal study by the U.S. Fire Administration
reported 25 incidents of fires or explosions caused by e-cigarettes from 2009 to 2014.
A checked bag that arrived late at Los Angeles
International Airport in January and missed its
connecting flight caught fire in the luggage
area because of an overheated e-cigarette
Passengers can still tote ecigarettes in their carry-on bags or pockets but
they can't smoke them in the plane.
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 7
Electronic Cigarette Explosions Making Headlines
E-cigarette explodes in California teen's pocket
January 5, 2016 / cbsnews.com
An Orange County, California, teen is recovering from burns after an e-cigarette exploded in his
pocket. CBS Los Angeles reports that the 19-year-old was at work at an Albertsons supermarket in
Ladera Ranch Monday evening when one of the two e-cigarette batteries in his pocket blew up
after coming into contact with his keys, according to Capt. Steve Concialdi of the Orange County
Fire Authority. The exploded unit blew about 15 feet down an aisle at the grocery store,
"The batteries exploded and it burned
his leg pretty bad. It shot off almost like a
bottle rocket," Albertsons employee
Jeremy Fleming said.
"The battery heated up and just blew out
of his pocket, and one of my coworkers
said it shot right at him," said another
employee, Mitch Landingham.
The victim was taken to Mission Hospital where he was treated for first and second-degree burns
on his thigh and then released. Landingham described his coworker's injuries: "There was just
like a huge black circle and almost like a rocket mark on his leg," he said. And it's not the first
report of e-cigarettes malfunctioning and injuring people.
Last February, a 17-year-old boy was injured while smoking an e-cigarette in Anaheim, California.
In March, CBS Los Angeles reports a Santa Ana man was injured after his e-cigarette blew up in
his hands. The explosion sent half of the electronic smoking device into the ceiling and started a
fire at his apartment.
And a Colorado Springs man was seriously injured in November when an e-cigarette exploded in
his face, leaving him hospitalized with a broken neck, facial fractures and burns.
Fire officials are warning e-cigarette users to keep batteries away from copper or metal, steer
clear of discount batteries and carry e-cigarettes separately from the body.
Because of the potential fire hazard, the federal government recently banned e-cigarettes from
checked luggage on aircraft. The Department of Transportation said it had reports of least 26
incidents since 2009 in which e-cigarettes had caused explosions or fires.
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 8
Electronic Cigarette Explosions Making Headlines
Man seriously injured by e-cigarette explosion
November 24, 2015 / cbsnews.com
A man is hospitalized in Colorado Springs with serious injuries after an electronic cigarette exploded in his face,
his family says. 29-year-old Cordero Caples suffered a broken neck, facial fractures, burns to his mouth and
shattered teeth in the explosion. According to an account posted by his sister on the fundraising site
GoFundMe, Caples was using an e-cigarette made by Kangertech when it exploded on Friday. Kangertech has
not yet responded to a request for comment by CBS News.Caples' sister, Colessia Porter, described the
situation as "heartbreaking." "Any sudden move can cause him to be in a paralyzed state, and that is something
we don't want," Porter told WMC-TV in Caples' hometown of Memphis. "He's going to need 24-hour care for a
while and constant monitoring from family and friends and
loved ones." She said he underwent spinal surgery on
Sunday, the first of a number of operations he's expected
According to the Colorado Springs Fire Department,
emergency crews responded to the medical call at his
job, and the incident is still under investigation, the
Although safety officials say fires or explosions caused by
e - c i g a re t t e s a re r a re , t h e F e d e r a l E m e rg e n c y
Management Agency (FEMA) said it was aware of at least
25 such incidents between 2009 and 2014. Nine people
were injured, including two who suffered serious burns.
"The shape and construction of e-cigarettes can make
them more likely than other products with lithium-ion
batteries to behave like 'flaming rockets' when a battery
fails," FEMA warned in a 2014 report.
CBS Los Angeles reports a similar accident last month
injured 23-year-old Vicente Garza in Bakersfield, California. Garza suffered damage to his mouth and doctors
were forced to amputate part of his left index finger. "It exploded in my face," Garza told the station. "I never
thought something like this could happen.” Last week, he joined two other California men in a lawsuit against
companies that manufacture and sell the products.
"It's unconscionable that these products are out there, and they are randomly exploding all across the country,"
said Garza's attorney, Greg Bentley. Bentley and his firm also represent former LA Galaxy soccer player Danny
Califf, who was hurt in February when an e-cigarette exploded next to his face, and Greg Phillips of Bakersfield,
who suffered leg burns when an e-cigarette battery exploded in his pocket in September.
"This is an unregulated industry, that is causing tremendous harm across the country," Bentley added. In
October, federal transportation officials imposed a new rule banning e-cigarettes from checked baggage on
airlines to protect against the risk of in-flight fires.
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 9
Fire Deaths Making National Headlines
5 die in house fire in Virginia; 5 survive flames
January 17, 2016 / Alexa Welch Edlund / Richmond Times-Dispatch /AP
CHESTERFIELD, Va. — Emergency response officials say five people were killed in an early morning fire in
suburban Richmond. Chesterfield County fire and emergency medical services said they responded
shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday to reports of a house fire. When
firefighters arrived, they found flames coming from an
Five occupants were able to escape, but five others died.
Four died at the scene, while the fifth was pronounced dead
at VCU Medical Center in Richmond. One firefighter was
treated for minor burns.
The cause of the fire is being investigated.
4 Adults Found Dead in New York Home After Late-Night Fire
January 11, 2016 / Associated Press / Rochester, NY
Authorities say four adults have been found dead inside a Rochester, New York, home after a late-night
fire that is being considered suspicious. Fire officials say they were called to the three-story, two-family
home on Sunday just before midnight. Officials say firefighters found the bodies of two men and two
women while battling the blaze.
The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester reports several homicide investigators and Monroe County
District Attorney Sandra Doorley were at the scene Monday. The fire has been deemed suspicious.
Officials haven't released any details on what may have caused the blaze or on what killed the four
victims. They haven't been identified.
Man found dead after Andover house fire
January 16, 2016 / Will Ashenmacher / pioneerpress.com / St. Paul, MN
A 39-year-old Andover man was found dead after authorities were called to investigate a burning home
Friday night. The man's body was found in the garage, and it doesn't appear he died in the fire, the
Anoka County sheriff's office said in a news release. The victim's identity has not yet been released. Just
after 8 p.m. Friday, a neighbor called 911 to report a home in the 13900 block of Nightingale Street
Northwest in Andover was on fire. When authorities arrived, they found the home in flames.
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 10
Forensic Fire Death Investigation Course (FFDIC)
San Luis Obispo, Embassy Suites Hotel / Rural San Luis Obispo
June 20, 2016 (0800 hours) — June 24, 2016 (1700 hours)
Seasoned investigators and detectives from fire, law enforcement,
and coroner agencies will gain the knowledge and skills to
thoroughly and professionally investigate any fire death situation.
Separate registration for Fire Service, Law Enforcement, and Coroner personnel is required to
ensure a multidisciplinary mixture for course diversity and interaction. See website for
availability and registration details. This course is POST certified.
Field Operations Course (FOC)
San Luis Obispo, Rural San Luis Obispo
June 20, 2016 (0800 hours)
D— June 22, 2016 (0500 hours)
Past graduates of the
will be observers in the field
operations as set Pup by SLOFIST personnel. This new course gives
attendees the ability to witness Sthe actual burning of human remains in a manner you were
not able to observe in theOFFIDC. Separate registration for Fire Service, Law Enforcement,
and Coroner personnel is required to ensure a multidisciplinary mixture for course diversity
and interaction. See website for availability and registration details. Prerequisite: Previous
completion of entire FFDIC course. This course is POST certified.
Forensic Vehicle Fire Investigation Course (FVFIC)
La Quinta Inn, Paso Robles
October 24, 2016 (0800) — October 28, 2016 (1700)
Fire service, law enforcement, and private investigator
personnel will participate in this 40-hour course for live vehicle
burns to analyze vehicle burn times, patterns, and temperatures using the scientific
method and the systematic approach for investigating vehicle fires through first-hand
observations of vehicle burns. This course is pending POST certification.
Training Announcements can be made in FLASH POINT after approval through
SLOFIST administration. If you are interested in advertising your training, please
contact the SLOFIST Board of Directors for additional information.
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 11
ra isi ng
c h u r ch
SLOFIST 2016 Training Schedule
Headlines and News: Wildfire Fatality Trends
January 17, 2016 / Bill Gabbert / wildfiretoday.com
Last week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack reported that 13 wildland firefighters lost their lives in the line
of duty in 2015. That was an increase from 2014, when there were 10 fatalities, and was about a third of the
34 that were killed in 2013 — that year included the deaths of 19 members of the Granite Mountain
Hotshots near Yarnell, Arizona. The National Interagency Fire Center has statistics about line-of-duty deaths
going back to 1910. During that time, according to their numbers, 1,099 firefighters died.
In looking at the 105 years of
NIFC data there appears to be
an increasing trend. The figures
below are the average number
of fatalities each year for the
indicated time periods:
One likely explanation for the
apparent increase is that 80 to
105 years ago probably not all
fatalities were reported or ended
up in a centralized data base,
especially those that occurred on state or locally protected lands. Even if we only look at the figures since
1960, as in the chart above, it still shows a steep increase over those 55 years. It is possible in the last 25
years the reporting of fatalities and the collection of the data has been somewhat more consistent and
complete. The chart on the next page covers that period, from 1990 through 2015, and has a slight
downward trend, which would be even more obvious if not for the 19-person crew that passed away in
2013 on the Yarnell Hill Fire.
I can’t prove that there was under-reporting of wildland firefighter fatalities during most of the 20th century,
but if a firefighter was killed on a vegetation fire in Missouri in 1921, I can see how that statistic may not have
made it into the data base that is now maintained at NIFC.
So what does all this mean? Individuals can look at the same batch of statistics and develop vastly different
interpretations. However, it would not be prudent to assume that the fatality rate almost tripled from the first
part of the 105-year period to the last 25 years. There are several ways to analyze data like this. The least
complex is to look at the trend of the raw numbers of fatalities year to year. A more complex and meaningful
method would be to determine the fatality rate. For example, the fatalities per million hours spent traveling
to and working on fires. That would be impossible to ferret out during most of the last 105 years. But the
firefighting agencies should be able to find a way to begin collecting this information, if they don’t have it
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 12
If the fatality and serious injury rates were calculated over a multi-year period, it should illustrate the
effectiveness of a risk management program. Otherwise, the simple number of deaths each year might be
affected to an unknown degree by the
number of acres burned.
factors could also affect the numbers,
such as fire intensity influenced by fuel
treatment programs, fire history,
drought, climate change, or arson.
Should firefighting agencies have
specific goals about serious injuries
and fatalities? Is there an acceptable
number? Is five a year too many? Is
15 too many? Is it stupid to have a
goal of zero fatalities—or any
The chart below superimposes the
number of fatalities over the acres
burned in the United States from 1990
through 2015, but it does not include Alaska since many fires there are not suppressed, or they are only
suppressed in areas where they threaten structures or people. In 2015, more acres burned in Alaska than
all of the other states combined.
One of our loyal readers, Bean, has been thinking about this issue and
figured that since the amount of firefighters’ exposure to risk is
necessary in order to calculate trends, perhaps parameters other than
acres burned could be correlated with the number of fatalities. Data that
is publicly available as far back as 1990 or 1994 includes mobilizations of incident management teams,
crews, overhead, helicopters, air tankers, air attack ships, infrared aircraft, MAFFS air tankers, caterers,
military firefighters, and shower units.
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 13
G A T I
I considered all of those and concluded that the number of crews mobilized would come the closest to
serving as a proxy for accurate data of how many hours all firefighters spent traveling to and working on fires.
Data for crew mobilizations is available from 1990 through 2014. I divided the number of crews mobilized by
the number of fatalities for each year and called this the Fatality/Crews Mobilized Index (below).
Like the earlier chart comparing fatalities to acres burned, this analysis also shows a decreasing trend in the
last 25 years. In a comment posted January 17, Kevin9 said the earlier acres/fatalities analysis is “spiky”. This
newer crews mobilized/fatalities data also has spikes (especially in 1997 and 2009) but not quite to the degree
the earlier chart had. During the 25-year period, 1997 had the least number of acres burned and crews
mobilized, but still had 10 fatalities. The second lowest number of crews mobilized occurred in 2009 and
there were 15 fatalities that year.
As an experiment, knowing that there were mass casualty events in 1994 and 2013 (14 and 19 fatalities
respectively), just to see what the effects were, I changed the data in those two years to the average for the
last 25 years, which is 17, and there was no major change in the trend line, except it was a little lower across
the entire range.
THINKING AS A TEAM…
CROSSING THE DISCIPLINE LINES…
As a side note, law enforcement line-of-duty deaths are
detailed by year and cause of death at the Officer Down
Memorial Page, located at www.odmp.org and a national
initiative titled Below 100 (www.below100.com)aims at
keeping law enforcement deaths below 100 per year.
Check them out.
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 14
Report Summary: NFPA’s Lightning Fires and Lightning Strikes
Marty Ahrens / June 2013 / nfpa.org
This analysis of lightning fires and lightning strikes includes information on incident type and when and where
the incidents occurred. It also includes selected published incident descriptions.
During 2007-2011, U.S. local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 22,600 fires per
year that were started by lightning. These fires caused an average of nine civilian deaths, 53 civilian
injuries, and $451 million in direct property damage per year. Most of these fires occurred outdoors,
but most associated deaths, injuries, and property damage were associated with home fires. Fires
started by lightning peak in the summer months and in the later afternoon and early evening. The
January 2006 West Virginia coal mine explosion that claimed 12 lives was the deadliest U.S. fire started
by lightning in recent years. Nine firefighters were killed in an August 2008 helicopter crash as they
were being evacuated from a California wildland fire started by lightning.
Lightning-related fires are more common in June through August and in the late afternoon and
evening. Peak seasons for lightning-related fires vary by region, as do weather patterns in general. In
addition to the fires reported to local fire departments, federal and state wildland firefighting agencies
reported an average of 9,000 wildland fires started by lightning to the National Interagency Fire Center
per year in 2008-2012. These fires tended to be
larger than fires started by human causes. The
average lightning-caused fire burned 402 acres, nine
times the average of 45 acres seen in human-caused
wildland fires. !
Over the 10 years from 2003-2012, 42 U.S.
firefighters were killed as a result of lightning-caused
fires. These deaths include fatalities during
fireground activities, as well as responding or
returning to fires. Four of these deaths occurred at
structure fires, and the remaining 38 were killed as
the result of wildland fires. Eleven of these deaths
occurred in helicopter crashes. !
In addition to causing fires, lightning is dangerous on its own. Data from the National Weather Service
show that in 2008-2012, an average of 29 people per year died as a result of lightning strikes. The
most common location for these deaths was outside or in an open area. The average number of
lightning flashes per square mile varies considerably by state, as does the death rate from lightning
incidents. See http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov for more information.
In 2003, the last year for which data about fire department responses to non-fire incidents is currently
available, 10,200 non-fire lightning strikes were reported to local fire departments. The majority of
these, 62%, occurred at home properties. Go to http://www.nfpa.org/research/reports-and-statistics/
fire-causes/lightning-fires-and-lightning-strikes for additional information and resources.
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 15
e x p a n d
y o u r
Related Reading — Automotive Fire Analysis
b r a
In the new Automotive Fire Analysis: An Engineering Approach, Third
Edition, experienced field engineer Gregory Barnett points out common
problems with the way automotive fires are investigated. Mr. Barnett has
compiled the research undertaken to date by manufacturers, standards
organizations and private institutions into one compact guide. Mr. Barnett
guides you through the proper techniques of vehicle fire analysis and
investigation, typical vehicle fires and burn patterns, and indicators of arson
in auto fires. He teaches you how to tell the difference between flameresistant and flammable materials, the flammable liquids contained in cars,
auto electrical systems and related fires, and more. This expanded third
edition contains brand new sections on alternative fuel vehicles and the
types of fires associated with them, including lithium-ion batteries,
supplemental restraint systems, and golf cart fires. He covers the current
safety standards for autos in the United States, in a clear and easy to follow
manner. He gives you important information on functioning as a witness in
court on auto fire cases. —Lawyers & Judges Publishing, 2013
Related Reading — Electrical Fire Analysis
This updated and expanded third edition continues the theme of the second edition of providing extensive
research findings in all types of electrical fires. This book describes in a practical and easy-to-understand manner
the patterns of electrical fires which make it easier to determine where an electrical fire started. Specific topics
include: (1) the general background and essential elements of fire initiation; (2) codes and standards, testing
laboratories approval, non-electrical fires, arc mapping and V-patterns; (3)
disassembly of equipment, nameplates, equipment misuse, abuse, and
repair; (4) the gathering, preserving, and shipping of evidence, keeping
records; (5) common clues, melting points, and insulation degradation;
(6) common components, moveable contacts, switches and relays, circuit
breakers and panels, conduit joints, heating elements; (7) appliances, wall
outlets and switches, light bulbs, reversed polarity; (8) arson, telephones
and answering machines, igniters, debris inspection; (9) reports,
depositions and trials, report purpose and appearances; (10) fire initiation
and spread, space heaters, wires, and other heat-producing mechanisms;
(11) fire characteristics and general precautions; (12) electrical systems
and grounds, general wiring; (13) photography and camera features; (14)
electrical circuits and waves; and (15) electrical power equipment,
transformers, generators, rectifiers, and motors. This book is an excellent
resource not only for arson investigators but for attorneys, the insurance
industry, and manufacturers who are concerned with electronic reliability.
—Charles C. Charles Publishing, Ltd. 2010
(Reviews & photos: amazon.com)
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 16
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NEW TECHNOLOGY APPLICATIONS
U AV- B a s e d C r i m e S c e n e I n v e s t i g a t i o n
Technique applicable for
large-scale scenes or investigations
lidarnews.com / November 19, 2015
This experimental project was
organized by the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police
(RCMP) and Pix4D to investigate
a proposed UAV-based protocol
for accident and crime scene
results with traditional methods
(measuring tape, laser scanner)
would show the accuracy and
reliability of the achieved
reconstruction results so that
they can eventually be used as
admitted evidence in court.
Two data sets of a made-up
crime scene were acquired with
quadcopters from Aeryon Labs
(225 images) and Draganfly (212 images). The ground sampling distance was less than 1 cm in order not to miss any
details. The full flight took less than thirty minutes including the pre-flight preparation. Eight yellow evidence markers
were placed around the collision scene, indicating the location where all evidence was found. (The densified 3D point
cloud is shown embedded above from the Pointscene.com platform.)
In order to improve the global accuracy of the final results, several points were measured with kinetic GPS and total
station. These points were picked from corners of the vehicles, the feature objects, and the evidence markers. They were
imported into the software and used either as ground control points, manual tie points or check points. In addition, a
terrestrial laser scanner was set up in several locations to scan over the entire scene to be used for quality assessment of
the UAV results. Pix4Dmapper’s total processing time was approximately 2 hours on a laptop with a core i7 and 8GB
RAM. A densified point cloud, digital surface model (DSM) and orthomosaic were generated.
The reconstructed results either exactly match or are within one centimeter accuracy when compared with traditional
methods. Detailed comparisons of results can be found in the White Paper (http://pix4d.com/wp-content/uploads/
2013/04/Pix4D-White-Paper_UAV-based-CSI.pdf) The project results show that UAV-based solutions not only save the
field measuring work but also provide LiDAR-like accuracies with more visible details which can be admitted as evidence
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 18
I N V E S
G A T I O
U AV- B a s e d C r i m e S c e n e I n v e s t i g a t i o n
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 19
multidisciplinary focus: law enforcement spotlight
Using Drones for Scene Reconstruction and Analysis
G re g G r a v e s e n i s a n
H e re h e
explains how employing a
fixed-wing mapping drone
has revolutionized his
Hi Greg, why don’t
you start by telling us
a little about your
Hi. I’ve been a law
enforcement officer for
During the past 22 years, I have developed a specialty in the area of crash reconstruction. In addition, through
my position as a Sergeant with the St. Paul Police Department’s Forensic Services Unit, I have had extensive
experience in the area of crime scene documentation and illustrations.
How has the technology you use in this work changed over that time?
Early on in my career, I used tape measures to document my crash scenes. As technology developed and the
costs got lower, I eventually upgraded to a laser scanning system. The past 15 years, I have incorporated
terrestrial surveying instruments such as a Trimble robotic total station and a FARO scanner to document both
crash and crime scenes. I am also involved in teaching this technology. Earlier this past year, I purchased the
senseFly eBee drone, which has become my primary methodology of scene documentation. This system allows
me to collect information for very large scenes very quickly.
How do you use the geospatial data you collect?
The senseFly mapping system allows me to create the orthomosaic image, a 3D point cloud, and a 3D mesh of
my crash and outdoor crime scenes. This output can be used in a number of ways, from a pure graphical
perspective and also during the analysis.
The eBee produces a high-resolution image that normally does not contain moving vehicles. In other words, if a
moving vehicle is contained in one image, that cell of the mosaic can be replaced by another image. This results
in a stunning image that can be a trial exhibit. This image can be used in several ways. One of the most
common applications is to use this image to create highly detailed and accurate scale diagrams. In addition, the
orthomosaic may also serve as the background for two-dimensional simulations and animations. The resulting
graphic is very visually appealing.
This approach to scene data collection is not only applicable for large-scale
scenes or investigations, but has minimal impact on the actual scene. This could
be a breakthrough in scene management.
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 20
Using Drones for Scene Reconstruction and Analysis
From a graphical perspective, I create a number
of animations using the 3D point cloud data
that I collect, for example with the laser scanner
or more recently with the eBee.
common type of animations involves a virtual
“fly-through” of the scene.
This allows the
viewer to get a unique perspective of a scene
that simply can’t be accomplished through
traditional technologies such as photography.
Using the eBee system these “fly-throughs” are
easy and quick to create. In addition, I create
more photorealistic animations where I insert
scaled models of objects, pedestrians, etc. into
the 3D point cloud. The 3D point clouds can
also be used as a “blueprint” to create virtual
models and environments using software such
as Autodesk’s 3D Studio Max.
The video [link: https://youtu.be/vwQFPRc7YYQ, screenshot below] is a point cloud fly-through animation that
depicts a scene over a mile long, which involved two vehicles drag racing. This animation allows the viewer to get
a unique perspective of the entire crash scene. It would have taken days to use a terrestrial scanner to complete
this project. This type of exhibit is really effective evidence. It gives juries and clients a unique perspective that
traditional methods, such as photography, just cannot compete with. Another application of the drone’s output
involves the use of computer simulation software, a powerful tool used in traffic accident reconstruction. This
software predicts things such as vehicle
positions, trajectories, acceleration,
collision forces etc., which are based on
Newton’s Laws of Motion. Specifically, I
use Engineering Dynamic Corporation’s
HVE and PC-Crash software packages.
Both packages require an environment be
created and later displayed in the
simulated results. The orthomosaic image
and the 3D point cloud created by the
eBee are easily imported into this
software and help produce a high quality,
Why did you choose the eBee drone
specifically? What made this system
I researched the eBee and was really impressed with it. However, I never really saw its full potential until I went out
and bought one. It is an extremely versatile system that produces accurate results, quickly. Whether I am using
the high-resolution orthomosaic image to create diagrams, the 3D point cloud to create a simulation environment,
or creating fly-though animations, this work is done much quicker and safer than using other methodologies.
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 21
Using Drones for Scene Reconstruction and Analysis
For example, for large scenes when
I would previously have used
terrestrial scanners these would have
taken one to two days to document
(not including computer processing
time). These take literally less than
30 minutes to fly and about three
hours to process on the computer.
Initially, the drone simply sounded
too good to be true. However, I was
amazed when I experienced it firsthand.
and built-in safeguards.
One of the other things I really like
about the eBee system is its reliability
What do you feel the acceptance of drone technology has been like in the crash and crime scene analysis
world up to now?
Interestingly, rotary systems are becoming common, but some people think that fixed wing UAS have no place in
forensics. I disagree completely. Often times, especially from the standpoint as a private consultant, my
involvement is long after the date of the crash and I don’t have the luxury of shutting down a road. A product like
the eBee excels here because I am able to capture highly accurate information about the scene both quickly and
safely. I am able to obtain 3D data in a fraction of the time it takes with other terrestrial surveying instruments.
And best of all, I do not have to enter the roadway or shoulders to obtain it.
The resolution of the eBee’s imagery means I can actually identify the paint marks that law enforcement made on
the ground, tire evidence, ruts in ditches, and other important evidence. Another strength of the eBee system is
the ability to document very large scenes. For example, I recently documented a crash scene that resulted from
two vehicles racing. The incident occurred over a one mile section of roadway. I was able to document this scene
with one 24-minute flight. I am not aware of a rotary system that could cover that extensive a scene in one flight.
The multi-rotor systems I am familiar with do not have the battery life that permits them to have the kind of range
seen with the eBee system.
You’re working on a comprehensive study about your use of drone technology in crash reconstruction.
Could you tell us a little more about what that will contain?
That’s right. I have already done some validation testing prior to using the eBee system for case work. I am now
planning on conducting a more extensive study that will scientifically evaluate drone technology in the content of
scene analysis work. This testing will involve evaluating and comparing technologies such as the eBee, total
stations and terrestrial laser scanners, and using a tape measure, in terms of their accuracy and efficiency. This
type of research is useful to validate tools like the eBee and defend them with Daubert challenges in court. We
hope to publish these results in a peer-reviewed journal. Based on my experience so far, the drone will prove to
be the fastest, most comprehensive data gathering tool. Its speed and accuracy, from what I’ve seen so far, are
Greg Gravesen has been an ACTAR-accredited traffic accident reconstruction specialist since 1994. He is the president of the private
consulting company Northwest Crash Analysis, LLC and currently works as a Sergeant in the St. Paul Police Department, Minnesota,
assigned to the Forensic Services Unit. He is also an adjunct instructor with IPTM.
waypoint.sensefly.com/setting-the-scene-using-drones-for-crash-reconstruction-and-analysis / 9/22/2015
FLASH POINT — DECEMBER 2015 — PAGE 22
t h e l a s t
e m b e r
Old, new, scratched up, or
forgotten under the desk,
these “toys” continue to do
their part in safety
management and training.
What other tool allows you to
easily demonstrate and explain
apparatus placement with ease
and portability? (Yes, you have
permission to admit you still play
with toys you’ve had since you
were five. It’s…for work.)
San Luis Obispo Fire Investigation Strike Team (SLOFIST)
// PO Box 1041 // Atascadero, California // 93423
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