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A fire investigation at the end of a long day was a perfect illustration of staying open to potential causes, and, a reminder that sometimes discovering the origin and cause of a fire is a life-saving endeavor when it prevents future dangers.
On February 7, 2008, at about 7:15 p.m., a series of huge explosions and fires occurred at the Imperial Sugar refinery northwest of Savannah, Georgia, causing 14 deaths and injuring 38 others, 14 seriously. The facility, which converted raw cane sugar into granulated sugar, had a material-handling system that included the familiar railcar unloader, belt conveyors, bucket elevators, and silo storage. The explosions were fueled by massive accumulations of combustible sugar dust throughout the packaging building.
Fires can be caused by devices that fail due to a manufacturer's defect. Quality assurance procedures have gone a long way to eliminate out-of-box failures but manufacturers sometimes bypass quality checks on consumer products for competitive reasons. Even the most ethical companies are susceptible to human error that can cause an almost imperceptible change in an otherwise flawless manufacturing procedure.
In the course of an arson investigation one of the standard procedures is, when possible, to collect the clothing of arson suspects and have them tested for ignitable liquids. The hypothesis being that if the clothing tests positive for the same ignitable liquids that are found in the fire debris, it is good circumstantial evidence to place the suspect at the scene with an ignitable liquid.
What does the insurer do once the fire is out? Normally, the property loss notice is submitted by the insured as soon as possible to begin the adjustment process, collect for damages, and get life back in order. The insurer takes this information and relates it to the adjuster, who then investigates and settles the claim. In fire losses, many times the adjuster will seek the services of a fire investigator or other expert to assist in determining the cause of loss so he or she can make an informed decision as to how to proceed with adjusting the claim. But the expert assigned to a certain loss can make all the difference in the world in how a claim is settled and whether there is an avenue for recovery of insurance funds or protection in potential liability claims.
A growing concern in the insurance sector is soot and smoke damage claims due to wildfires. Some of these fires can affect properties hund reds of miles downwind, causing the potential number of claims to be astronomical. Besides the known risks for respiratory and other health problems, smoke, soot, and char can cause physical damage ranging from settled ash to property damage.
The world of fire investigations is always changing and EFI Global is active in its research and testing methods. In an effort to support insura nce, subrogation, loss prevention and litigation relating to losses, EFI Global's chemical laboratories regularly perform chemical analysis on new products to identify potential accelerants and igni tion sources.. Recently, EFI Global laboratories conducted proactive chemical testing on a new matchless fire starter. This commercially available product is marketed and used to start wood and campfires.. The results of EFI Global's testing revealed the limitations and significance if this product is used as an accelerant.
A space heater is a device designed to warm a small area. These devices are typically portable, but the category does include gas- and wood-fueled models that are permanently installed; however, these are not the focus of this article.
Automatic fire suppression systems are by far the most effective and safest means of preventing extensive fire damage and saving lives. For this discussion, we will touch on automatic sprinkler systems (building systems) and kitchen hood suppression systems. These systems range from very simple to extremely complex.
Editor's note: A trend to require more fire safety equipment in residences and nursing homes will reduce deaths and injuries, both among firefighters and the general public, says E. Metts Hardy, vice president/Fire Investigations for EFI Global (www.efiglobal.com), a Kingwood, Texas-based provider of engineering, fire investigation, environmental, accident reconstruction, and laboratory testing services.