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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.


Matchless fire starters are relatively new products sold commercially, and marketed as an emergency or convenient way to start wood and camp fires without matches. These products burn vigorously enough to be used in wet weather and are very competent ignition sources for combustible materials. One such product resembles a small hockey puck and under the plastic wrapping and cardboard exterior, contains a striker similar to a book of matches.

As with all fire igniter products, the potential exists for misuse as an accelerant to start arson fires. The EFI Chemical laboratory conducted pr eliminary testing to determine if this product would be detected after a fire by the standard ASTM analytic al tests for ignitable liquids.

The main components included in this product are

Potassium chlorate
Potassium perchlorate
Iron oxide
Antimony Sulfide
Fuel additive to increase fire intensity
Calcium Carbonate
Neutralizer to keep the oxidizers from igniting prematurely
Organic materials
Fuel and containment of materials

Forensic Testing:

A series of chemical tests were performed on o ne of these matchless fire starters. These tests are listed and described below:

Infrared analysis: A portion of the interior solids were analyzed by Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy. This method will ge nerate a spectrum of many chemical components in a sample. The results of this test showed the presence of potassium chlorate and potassium perchlorate. These are reactive oxidizers and they are listed on the product material safety data sheets.

Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectroscopy: The GC/MS analysis is commonly used in the analysis and identification of ignitable liquids by well-established test methods (ASTM E 1618). A portion of the outer cardboard and inner solids was extracted with petroleum ether and analyzed. This analysis showed the presence of paraffin wax but not any classical ignitable liquids or volatile organic compounds. The wax was most likely used on the cardboard for waterproofing and as a secondary fuel (like standard "waterproof" matches). It is possible that some wax is also used as a binder for the interior solids.


Based on the chemicals and design of the product, it can be viewed as a large inside out safety match. The fire starter product appears to be scaled to produce a quick ignition and a regulated, but intense fire.

While no classical ignitable liquids were found in this product (making it invisible to the standard fire debris test method - ASTM E 1618), there is the potential for finding elevated chlorides or sulfur in the ash. However, finding and collecting the ash may be difficult or impossible after fire suppression with water as the ash will wash away. Additional chemical and spectrochemical tests to detect its presence in fire debris would be needed. Unfortunately such testing could be inconclusive since many other products (such as PVC and other products normally found in homes) also contain chlorine or sulfur.

Based on these preliminary tests, the produc t would have the same challenges as finding a book of paper matches after a fire. Meticulous fire investigations and acute examination can isolate and identify matches, as well as these new matchless fire starter containers. The bottom line is not new: for a successful fire investigation, the work and observatio ns of the investigator are critical to resolve the origin and cause since, for this product, it would be very difficult or impossible to confirm its presen ce using the standard analyses.

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EFI Global is a full-service Engineering, Fire Investigation, Environmental, Health and Safety, and specialty consulting firm. Over the last four decades, they have grown from a boutique firm to become a recognized leader in engineering failure analysis, origin and cause investigations, and environmental consulting. This expertise coupled with the extensive coverage of our 27 national offices, more than 400 professionals, and global work abroad capability allows EFI Global to deliver timely responses that consistently meets their clients' expectations.

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