Fire Investigation

Official patch of the Bristol, Tennessee Fire Department

Fire Investigation

All fire departments are required to conduct an investigation in an effort to determine the origin and cause of every fire.  Bristol Fire Rescue begins the fire origin and cause investigation during the arrival of the first fire personnel on the scene.  Investigative information continues to be gathered by the Incident Commander, as well as, by fire suppression personnel. Each fire incident must be classified as accidental (negligence), incendiary, suspicious and/or if an explosive device was involved. The investigator(s) deal with at least five important elements of fire investigation which are determination, documentation, legal issues, data processing and the unique requirements associated with the crime of arson. The investigator(s) shall work to establish the origin and cause of a fire/explosion incident utilizing the guidelines promulgated by National Fire Protection Association Standard 921, and must undertake careful examination and analysis of the available evidence.

When the fire origin and cause of the incident is determined to be incendiary or suspicious, the fire scene shall be treated as a crime scene and access into the scene shall be strictly controlled. Bristol Fire Rescue and the Bristol Police Department will remain in control of the scene until the investigation is completed. Once scene investigation is terminated, the criminal investigation phase will begin. All involved agencies will work as a team through all phases of the investigation until the case is closed or prosecuted. 

"Arson is a devastating crime - killing and injuring hundreds of individuals, destroying neighborhoods and shattering lives each and every year. Bristol Fire Rescue wants to encourage all residents to team-up with fire and law enforcement officials to put an end to arson in our community." 

The National Fire Protection Association reports an estimated 300,000 intentionally set fires in the United States each year which results in an estimated 400-500 deaths, 6,000 – 8,000 injuries and $1 billion in property loss.

  • Five percent of all residential building fires were intentionally set.
  • Lighters (22 percent), heat from other open flame or smoking materials (19 percent) and matches (15 percent) were the leading heat sources of intentionally set fires in residential buildings.
  • The majority (76 percent) of intentionally set fires in residential buildings occurred in one or two-family dwellings. An additional 19 percent of fires occurred in multifamily dwellings.
  • Forty-one percent of the intentionally set residential fires occurred in vacant buildings.
  • Rubbish, trash and waste (8 percent); magazines, newspapers and writing paper (7 percent); and uncontained flammable liquids or gas (6 percent) were the items most often first ignited in intentionally set fires in residential buildings. 
  • Intentionally set home structure fires are more likely to be set between 3 PM and Midnight.

Fires at abandoned and vacant buildings cause more firefighter injuries than in any other property classification; and, they also can cause damage to nearby homes and businesses and destroy the fabric of the community. Whether the buildings are abandoned or vacant, more than 70 percent of the fires occurring in them are incendiary or suspicious. Myriad motivations are behind the intentional burning of homes such as curiosity, vandalism, concealing another crime, excitement, revenge, and insurance fraud or arson for profit

Curiosity:  Curiosity fires are most often set by juveniles.    

Vandalism: Vandalism or the criminal offense of malicious mischief can be the result of boredom, peer pressure or even gang activity. Vandalism is most common at abandoned or vacant homes.

Concealing Another Crime:  Arson is sometimes used to mask or conceal another crime such as murder. The criminal sets the crime scene ablaze hoping that the victim’s death will be attributed to the fire and not murder. Criminals may also use arson in an attempt to cover up crimes such as burglary and larceny.

Excitement:  Fires set for excitement are usually just nuisance fires but may escalate to other structures.  Excitement-motivated arsonists desire the thrill associated with setting the fire and relish the attention it brings. They rarely intend to injure people but don’t have the requisite knowledge to keep the fires under control.

Revenge:  According to the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, the most common motive (41 percent) for a serial arsonist is revenge. An arsonist will target the home of someone in retaliation for an actual or perceived injustice against him or her.

Insurance Fraud / Arson for Profit:  Arson for profit is insurance fraud, a criminal method of obtaining money from a fire loss policy. Torching homes for insurance money endangers innocent neighbors and responding firefighters.  Insurance crimes also raise premiums for all honest homeowners.  

Some Helpful Tips:

  • Secure and monitor unoccupied and abandoned buildings
  • Eliminate potential fuels by removing trash, debris and other combustible materials
  • Install security items such as locks, fire alarms and monitoring equipment
  • Secure doors and windows, especially basements, garage and first floors to stop easy access
  • Immediately report any questionable activities to the proper authorities
  • Illuminate the exterior and entrances so an arsonist has no place to hide

Arson is a crime and is punishable by law; but ARSON is preventable. “With better equipment, better training and improved technology, the chances of tracking down fire starters have increased drastically; however, the losses from intentionally set fires have not decreased”. It takes more than detection to stop this crime; it takes awareness, plus the dedication of the community through prevention. Remember, arson creates blighted neighborhoods, job losses, insurance premium increases, and irreplaceable personal property losses”. Bristol Fire Rescue encourages everyone to become aware of and to practice fire safe behavior.   

Bristol Fire Rescue
(423) 989-5701


Bristol’s Tip Line

(423) 764-8477


Tennessee Arson Hotline