Special Issue "Advances in Fire Debris Analysis"

A special issue of Separations (ISSN 2297-8739).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 July 2018).

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Michael Sigman
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
National Center for Forensic Science, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, USA
Ms. Mary Williams
E-Mail
Guest Editor
National Center for Forensic Science, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, USA

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Several factors complicate the analysis of fire debris for the purposes of detecting and characterizing ignitable liquid residue. These factors include the complex nature of many ignitable liquids, evaporative changes to the liquid during the fire, potential biological degradation of the liquid, and the presence of background contributions from pyrolysis products. The chemical complexity of fire debris results in subjective forensic inferences reported as categorical statements that are not reflective of the evidentiary value. Current research is addressing many of these challenges associated with the chemical analysis of fire debris through improved chromatography and mass spectrometry. Research in the statistical analysis of complex data sets is improving data interpretation and communicating the evidentiary value of samples through the use of probabilistic statements. This Special Issue looks at these and other aspects of current research into the important and complex forensic science of fire debris analysis.

Prof. Dr. Michael Sigman
Ms. Mary Williams
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Separations is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • fire debris
  • gas chromatography-mass spectrometry
  • comprehensive gas chromatography
  • pyrolysis
  • likelihood ratios
  • chemometrics
  • factor selection
  • machine learning

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Advances in Fire Debris Analysis
Separations 2019, 6(1), 13; https://doi.org/10.3390/separations6010013 - 26 Feb 2019
Abstract
The practice of forensic fire debris analysis and data interpretation in operational (i [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Fire Debris Analysis)

Research

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Open AccessArticle
Modern Instrumental Limits of Identification of Ignitable Liquids in Forensic Fire Debris Analysis
Separations 2018, 5(4), 58; https://doi.org/10.3390/separations5040058 - 10 Dec 2018
Cited by 1
Abstract
Forensic fire debris analysis is an important part of fire investigation, and gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) is the accepted standard for detection of ignitable liquids in fire debris. While GC-MS is the dominant technique, comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC×GC-MS) is gaining popularity. [...] Read more.
Forensic fire debris analysis is an important part of fire investigation, and gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) is the accepted standard for detection of ignitable liquids in fire debris. While GC-MS is the dominant technique, comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC×GC-MS) is gaining popularity. Despite the broad use of these techniques, their sensitivities are poorly characterized for petroleum-based ignitable liquids. Accordingly, we explored the limit of identification (LOI) using the protocols currently applied in accredited forensic labs for two 75% evaporated gasolines and a 25% evaporated diesel as both neat samples and in the presence of interfering pyrolysate typical of fire debris. GC-MSD (mass selective detector (MS)), GC-TOF (time-of-flight (MS)), and GC×GC-TOF were evaluated under matched conditions to determine the volume of ignitable liquid required on-column for correct identification by three experienced forensic examiners performing chromatographic interpretation in accordance with ASTM E1618-14. GC-MSD provided LOIs of ~0.6 pL on-column for both neat gasolines, and ~12.5 pL on-column for neat diesel. In the presence of pyrolysate, the gasoline LOIs increased to ~6.2 pL on-column, while diesel could not be correctly identified at the concentrations tested. For the neat dilutions, GC-TOF generally provided 2× better sensitivity over GC-MSD, while GC×GC-TOF generally resulted in 10× better sensitivity over GC-MSD. In the presence of pyrolysate, GC-TOF was generally equivalent to GC-MSD, while GC×GC-TOF continued to show 10× greater sensitivity relative to GC-MSD. Our findings demonstrate the superior sensitivity of GC×GC-TOF and provide an important approach for interlaboratory benchmarking of modern instrumental performance in fire debris analysis. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Fire Debris Analysis)
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Application of Self-Organizing Maps to the Analysis of Ignitable Liquid and Substrate Pyrolysis Samples
Separations 2018, 5(4), 52; https://doi.org/10.3390/separations5040052 - 31 Oct 2018
Cited by 2
Abstract
Classification of un-weathered ignitable liquids is a problem that is currently addressed by visual pattern recognition under the guidelines of Standard Test Method for Ignitable Liquid Residues in Extracts from Fire Debris Samples by Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry, ASTM E1618-14. This standard method does [...] Read more.
Classification of un-weathered ignitable liquids is a problem that is currently addressed by visual pattern recognition under the guidelines of Standard Test Method for Ignitable Liquid Residues in Extracts from Fire Debris Samples by Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry, ASTM E1618-14. This standard method does not separately address the identification of substrate pyrolysis patterns. This report details the use of a Kohonen self-organizing map coupled with extracted ion spectra to organize ignitable liquids and substrate pyrolysis samples on a two-dimensional map with groupings that correspond to the ASTM-classifications and separate the substrate pyrolysis samples from the ignitable liquids. The component planes give important information regarding the ions from the extracted ion spectra that contribute to the different classes. Some additional insight is gained into grouping of substrate pyrolysis samples based on the nature of the unburned material as a wood or non-wood material. Further subclassification was not apparent from the self-organizing maps (SOM) results. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Fire Debris Analysis)
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Fixed- and Variable-Temperature Kinetic Models to Predict Evaporation of Petroleum Distillates for Fire Debris Applications
Separations 2018, 5(4), 47; https://doi.org/10.3390/separations5040047 - 25 Sep 2018
Cited by 1
Abstract
Forensic fire debris analysis focuses on the identification of a foreign ignitable liquid in debris collected from the scene of a suspected intentional fire. Chromatograms of the extracted debris are compared to a suitable reference collection containing chromatograms of unevaporated and evaporated ignitable [...] Read more.
Forensic fire debris analysis focuses on the identification of a foreign ignitable liquid in debris collected from the scene of a suspected intentional fire. Chromatograms of the extracted debris are compared to a suitable reference collection containing chromatograms of unevaporated and evaporated ignitable liquids. However, there is no standardized method for the evaporation of ignitable liquids and the process itself can be time consuming, which limits the number of chromatograms of evaporated liquids included in the reference collection. This work describes the development and application of a variable-temperature kinetic model to predict evaporation rate constants and mathematically predict chromatograms corresponding to evaporated ignitable liquids. First-order evaporation rate constants were calculated for 78 selected compounds in diesel, which were used to develop predictive models of evaporation rates. Fixed-temperature models were developed to predict the rate constants at five temperatures (5, 10, 20, 30, 35 °C), yielding a mean absolute percent error (MAPE) of 10.0%. The variable-temperature model was then created from these data by multiple linear regression, yielding a MAPE of 16.4%. The model was applied to generate a reference collection of predicted chromatograms of diesel and kerosene corresponding to a range of evaporation levels. Using the modeled reference collection, successful identification of the liquid and level of evaporation in a test set of chromatograms was demonstrated. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Fire Debris Analysis)
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Open AccessCommunication
Developing a Method for the Collection and Analysis of Burnt Remains for the Detection and Identification of Ignitable Liquid Residues Using Body Bags, Dynamic Headspace Sampling, and TD-GC×GC-TOFMS
Separations 2018, 5(3), 46; https://doi.org/10.3390/separations5030046 - 17 Sep 2018
Cited by 1
Abstract
In cases of suspected arson, a body may be intentionally burnt to cause loss of life, dispose of remains, or conceal identification. A primary focus of a fire investigation, particularly involving human remains, is to establish the cause of the fire; this often [...] Read more.
In cases of suspected arson, a body may be intentionally burnt to cause loss of life, dispose of remains, or conceal identification. A primary focus of a fire investigation, particularly involving human remains, is to establish the cause of the fire; this often includes the forensic analysis of fire debris for the detection of ignitable liquid residues (ILRs). Commercial containers for the collection of fire debris evidence include metal cans, glass jars, and polymer/nylon bags of limited size. This presents a complication in cases where the fire debris consists of an intact, or partially intact, human cadaver. This study proposed the use of a body bag as an alternative sampling container. A method was developed and tested for the collection and analysis of ILRs from burnt porcine remains contained within a body bag using dynamic headspace sampling (using an Easy-VOC™ hand-held manually operated grab-sampler and stainless steel sorbent tubes containing Tenax TA) followed by thermal desorption comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography–time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TD-GC×GC-TOFMS). The results demonstrated that a body bag containing remains burnt with gasoline tested positive for the presence of gasoline, while blank body bag controls and a body bag containing remains burnt without gasoline tested negative. The proposed method permits the collection of headspace samples from burnt remains before the remains are removed from the crime scene, limiting the potential for contamination and the loss of volatiles during transit and storage. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Fire Debris Analysis)
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Model Distribution Effects on Likelihood Ratios in Fire Debris Analysis
Separations 2018, 5(3), 44; https://doi.org/10.3390/separations5030044 - 03 Sep 2018
Cited by 2
Abstract
Computational models for determining the strength of fire debris evidence based on likelihood ratios (LR) were developed and validated against data sets derived from different distributions of ASTM E1618-14 designated ignitable liquid class and substrate pyrolysis contributions using in-silico generated data. The models [...] Read more.
Computational models for determining the strength of fire debris evidence based on likelihood ratios (LR) were developed and validated against data sets derived from different distributions of ASTM E1618-14 designated ignitable liquid class and substrate pyrolysis contributions using in-silico generated data. The models all perform well in cross validation against the distributions used to generate the model. However, a model generated based on data that does not contain representatives from all of the ASTM E1618-14 classes does not perform well in validation with data sets that contain representatives from the missing classes. A quadratic discriminant model based on a balanced data set (ignitable liquid versus substrate pyrolysis), with a uniform distribution of the ASTM E1618-14 classes, performed well (receiver operating characteristic area under the curve of 0.836) when tested against laboratory-developed casework-relevant samples of known ground truth. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Fire Debris Analysis)
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Open AccessArticle
Detection and Characterization of Ignitable Liquid Residues in Forensic Fire Debris Samples by Comprehensive Two-Dimensional Gas Chromatography
Separations 2018, 5(3), 43; https://doi.org/10.3390/separations5030043 - 27 Aug 2018
Cited by 3
Abstract
This study covers an extensive experimental design that was developed for creating simulated fire debris samples under controlled conditions for the detection and identification of ignitable liquids (IL) residues. This design included 19 different substrates, 45 substrate combinations with and without ignitable liquids, [...] Read more.
This study covers an extensive experimental design that was developed for creating simulated fire debris samples under controlled conditions for the detection and identification of ignitable liquids (IL) residues. This design included 19 different substrates, 45 substrate combinations with and without ignitable liquids, and 45 different ILs from three classes (i.e., white spirit, gasoline, and lamp oil). Chemical analysis was performed with comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GC×GC-TOFMS) for improved separation and compound identification. The enhanced peak capacity offered by GC×GC-TOFMS allowed the use of a target compound list in combination with a simple binary decision model to arrive at quite acceptable results with respect to IL detection (89% true positive and 7% false positive rate) and classification (100% correct white spirit, 79% correct gasoline, and 77% correct lamp oil assignment). Although these results were obtained in a limited set of laboratory controlled fire experiments including only three IL classes, this study confirms the conclusions of other studies that GC×GC-TOFMS can be a powerful tool in the challenging task of forensic fire debris analysis. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Fire Debris Analysis)
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Open AccessArticle
Application of Headspace Gas Chromatography-Ion Mobility Spectrometry for the Determination of Ignitable Liquids from Fire Debris
Separations 2018, 5(3), 41; https://doi.org/10.3390/separations5030041 - 13 Aug 2018
Cited by 4
Abstract
A fast and correct identification of ignitable liquid residues in fire debris investigation is of high importance in forensic research. Advanced fast analytical methods combined with chemometric tools are usually applied for these purposes. In the present study, the Headspace Gas Chromatography-Ion Mobility [...] Read more.
A fast and correct identification of ignitable liquid residues in fire debris investigation is of high importance in forensic research. Advanced fast analytical methods combined with chemometric tools are usually applied for these purposes. In the present study, the Headspace Gas Chromatography-Ion Mobility Spectrometry (HS-GC-IMS) combined with chemometrics is proposed as a promising technique for the identification of ignitable liquid residues in fire debris samples. Fire debris samples were created in the laboratory, according to the Destructive Distillation Method for Burning that is provided by the Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives. Four different substrates (pine wood, cork, paper, and cotton sheet) and four ignitable liquids of dissimilar composition (gasoline, diesel, ethanol, and paraffin) were used to create the fire debris. The Total Ion Current (TIC) Chromatogram combined with different chemometric tools (hierarchical cluster analysis and linear discriminant analysis) allowed for a full discrimination between samples that were burned with and without ignitable liquids. Additionally, a good identification (95% correct discrimination) for the specific ignitable liquid residues in the samples was achieved. Based on these results, the chromatographic data from HS-GC-IMS have been demonstrated to be very useful for the identification and discrimination of ignitable liquids residues. The main advantages of this approach vs. traditional methodology are that no sample manipulation or solvent is required; it is also faster, cheaper, and easy to use for routine analyses. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Advances in Fire Debris Analysis)
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