View Full Version : Police/ Firefighter Response for Arson

05-16-2014, 01:56 AM
Hello all,
I'm wondering if anyone might have some background knowledge of police work/ firefighting that could give me some insight into this question:

My story is set in a very rural, mountain area of Virginia. Hours after a candlelight vigil near an older, unoccupied house, the house goes up in flames. Local volunteer firefighters respond and call in police from next city because they are suspicious of arson, since there is no obvious reason for the fire and the candlelight vigil nearby took place only hours before. Police are unable to determine the cause of the fire, but don't find evidence of arson. The case drops quickly because the house is unoccupied and has been sold to someone who was planning to bulldoze it soon, anyway.

My feeling on the timeline is that the house burns down late at night and firefighters stick around to control hot spots/ etc. until the morning. Police investigate until around noon. Afterwards, the new owner comes to survey the damage, people are able to stand in the front yard, etc.

Does this sound plausible?
Thanks for any insight!!

05-16-2014, 02:11 AM
I'm not current on Virginia agencies, but it seems they'd call Virginia State Police or the local County Sheriff's Office. City police agencies are going to be limited in their jurisdiction. A county sheriff has jurisdiction anywhere in the county. Likewise, VSP can go anywhere in the state. Looks like VSP does have an Arson unit: http://www.vsp.state.va.us/BCI_SSD.shtm

I think your timeline is not quite realistic. A fire marshal would be out to check on things as well as the local police. And they'll start investigating as soon as the fire is out. They'll want to know if utilities were on (if there are no utilities on, how did the fire start?), or what other possible ignition sources were around.

Was there insurance on the house? The beneficiary will be checked out.

Bottom line, the house won't be released a few hours after a suspicious fire. Think days, at least. Couldn't hurt to email VSP and see what they say.

05-16-2014, 02:15 AM
Fire department would request investigation by the State Fire Marshall - http://vdfp.virginia.gov/state_fire_marshal/index.html

This is pretty much automatic for a structure fire with a complete loss.

Usually a complete collapse requires firefighters on scene (in limited numbers) to control hotspots for about 12 hours. The collapse will cover hot spots that need some time to burn clear.

Fire marshal would show up about the time crews are being released and do a primary survey. In your time line, they would then come back late in the afternoon for a more thorough look, and then again the next morning.

The case will never "drop" if arson is a suspected cause. It will remain open, but it may not be active. Somebody wanting to bulldoze the house would cause concern on the part of the fire marshal. It's quicker and cheaper to burn a house then tear it down legally.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

05-16-2014, 02:26 AM
Wow, thank you both!!! That was a huge help, I appreciate it :)

05-16-2014, 04:53 PM
Yeah, couple of things - what Jim said on being cheaper to burn it down than bulldoze it. The New Hampshire Highway Hotel comes to mind, the owner asked the fire department if he could do a controlled burn (and I'm going on heresay here because this was a long, long time ago) and the fire department said no. Then the place burned. Coincidence?

The hotel closed in September 1988 after Milwaukee developer Frank Crivello purchased it for $4.4 million at auction with the intent to demolish it and build a shopping center.
But less than two months later, a fire deemed "extremely suspicious" by the fire chief torched a good portion of the abandoned building. The fire required the work of more than 100 firefighters from 20 trucks and 10 towns before it was under control.
People were seen fleeing the scene, and a blue Toyota 4x4 was also seen speeding away, and it was later revealed that the fire had been set by the 19-year old son of a Concord firefighter.

And then there's was just happened in my town this past Monday, although the delay might be related to the two bodies in the ruins. They're saying the fire marshal will be on site there for at least a week, and I think they're pretty sure they know who started the fire even before they start the investigation.


No idea if this is helpful or not. :)

05-16-2014, 08:40 PM
In addition to Fire Marshals, many fire departments have personnel so designated as arson investigators (as a collateral duty). They're specially trained firemen who have powers of arrest, either pursuant to statute and/or typically deputized by an appropriate authority (think county Sheriff). It's not unusual to find them working a suspicious scene side by side with BATF, especially if an explosive/incendiary device is suspected.