To this day, most fire investigators are not scientists. A recent survey of 217 fire investigators by a student from National University in San Diego found that only 14 percent had an advanced degree of any kind. Thirty-four percent had a college degree. But 13 percent had only a high school education. One percent had only a GED. A 2013 survey of 586 public sector fire investigators by two Eastern Kentucky University professors found that some myths are still commonly believed to be indicators of arson. Nearly 40 percent did not know that crazed glass is caused by rapid cooling, not rapid heating. Twenty-three percent think puddle-shaped burns indicate the use of an accelerant. Eight percent still believe that alligator blistering implies that a fire burned fast and hot.
If you have any interest in arson, whether criminal defense or civil recoveries, you need to read this article.
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Badly Burned: Long-held beliefs about arson science have been debunked after decades of misuse and scores of wrongful convictions.”