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Many Texas fire investigations are based on junk science

Posted: 09-06-10Category:

[caption id="attachment_1820" align="alignleft" width="150"]House Fire A Texas Gulf Coast House Fire[/caption]

Recently, scientists have been examining the way fire cause and origin investigators conduct their examinations of fire scenes. Their findings have highlighted the fact that "traditional fire investigations" often involve a tangle between science and superstition. Unfortunately, many times innocent policyholders are being falsely accused of arson after a fire based on out-of-date or unreliable junk science.

"Accidental fires being turned into arsons is going on all the time," said Gerald Hurst, a Cambridge-educated chemist who was the chief scientist for the nation's largest explosive manufacturer. He has turned to investigating fires and has testified on behalf of wrongly accused arson defendants. Hurst sees a fundamental problem: investigators most of whom began as police officers and firefighters have no science background, and this is even more true of the "fire investigators" hired by most insurance companies to investigate fires. John Lentini, an author of the definitive guide to fire investigation, said that honest investigators will walk away from about one in five fires unable to determine a cause because the heat destroys evidence, oil-based materials leave patterns that can be misleading, and firefighting water contaminates the scene. "But you turn up enough 'undetermined' and you'll lose your job," Lentini said. "If there wasn't a crime and if the guy who makes the call gets it wrong, then he sets in motion a chain of events that will run over an innocent person."  This is also true of private fire investigators hired by insurance companies, who have a financial incentive to find that a fire was intentionally set.  Honest fire investigators who turn up too many "accidental" or "undetermined" fire cases simply don't get hired by the insurance companies. This results in a some innocent policyholders having their fire insurance claims wrongfully denied because of faulty fire investigations, many of which are based on junk science. In addition, lore about how fires react becomes ingrained, and it takes a long time for debunked science to become accepted. The Texas Justice System is just now beginning to examine and evaluate the impact of outdated junk science on fire cause and origin investigations. Last year, a state commissioned study submitted to the Texas Forensic Science Commission found numerous errors in the way Texas Fire Cause and Origin investigations are being conducted. Fire investigators, often cling to "fire mythology" even after old fire myths have been scientifically proven to be false.  As a result, innocent policyholders are sometimes accused of arson based on flawed fire investigations conducted by poorly trained investigators. [caption id="attachment_1827" align="alignleft" width="150"]Gulf Coast House Fire Gulf Coast House Fire[/caption] Remember, if you have a fire, the insurance company's adjusters and investigators are not there to help you get your claim paid. More often than not, they are looking for any possible way to deny your claim and cast suspicion on you personally.  If you have suffered a fire loss, you don't have to deal with the insurance company by yourself. You have the right to have an experienced fire loss attorney guide you through the process. Houston based attorney Steve Ferrell is an experienced fire loss attorney who spent 24 years representing insurance companies before switching sides to help policyholders with their claims against their insurance companies.  Steve handles fire loss cases all over Texas. If you have a fire loss or an insurance claim, contact The Ferrell Law Firm, P.C. for professional legal representation.  Call us at (713) 800-0220 for a free confidential consultation. We can help.

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