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For sure no one will be punished for the setting of these fires, as they have been set in the interest of fire safety
science within the frame of the french National Fire Safety Engineering Program: Programme Nationale Ingénierie de
Sécurité Incendie (PNISI).
Laboratoire Central de la Préfecture de Police
Given the chance to use an old 11-story building of a length of about 140 meters, built in 1957 at Arcueil in the département
Val de Marne (94) near the Vache Noire crossing, now intended for demolition, to perform full-scale fire test therein, the
LCPP has invited on a european level
fire science experts and fire investigators to participate in this event. The given facts of the building offered the unique possibility
to perform several tests under nearly identical conditions, to be able to study the results of known variations. The main objective
of these tests was the comparision of numerical simulations against real fire data.
As a surplus it has been recognized that, after each fire has been performed, a fire scene of an exact known origin would remain, which
could be presented to fire investigators to challenge their capabilities in finding origin and cause and compare their results
to the known reality to be able to use the different results and findings of the international possibly different approaches and procedures
for further integration in the formation of new investigators as well as for the continuing education of actual investigators.
The presentation of the event to the admitted public took place on 19th February 2009 at the Laplace school directly in front
of the building where the test were performed in the week of 16th to 19th February 2009.
The public interest was so high, that coverages of the event have been aired over the regional television channel FR3 Île-de-France
as well as over the nationl television channel Antenne2.
The building in which the tests were performed
The part of the event intended for the fire investigators already took place on the 18th February 2009.
The meeting started off at the 15th district of Paris at the place of the Central Laboratory of the Police
Recption of the participants in the entrance hall of the LCPP
At the reception of the entrance hall the registered participants received their badges. Then we had a first chance to communicate
with other participants which came from different regions of France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, Luxembourg, Switzerland,
Germany, and even from Canada.
In total 54 fire investigation specialists which were grouped in 5 groups.
For those who were at bit early, Mr. Bazin organzied a short demonstration of the intervention vehicles of the fire investgation groups
and the bomb squads to shorten the waiting time a bit.
After all of the participant have arrived, we moved to an auditorium in a building besides the LCPP. There Mr. Bazin gave us a
short overview of the whole working activities of the LCPP in which we were taught that the LCPP offers a service of intervention
24/24 on 7/7, an indispensable service for a town like Paris. Then followed an abstract of the complete test campaign at Arcueil.
Then we were instructed how the scenes have been prepared. A simple furniture set-up for the flats and for the hotel rooms has been
The briefing of the participants of the fire investigation part by Mr. Bazin of the LCPP
These simple set-ups have been selected because in this kind of accommodation, which is known from real-world experience in the
past, the majority of deaths is to be found after fires. This way it was intended to produce fire scenes of highest interest for the
The fires which created the fire scenes to investigate have already been set on 16th and 17th February and there
hasn't been a possibility to participate for those not directly involved in the realization of the tests, due to security reasons.
Straight after the fires have been extinguished, a photographic documentation of the scenes has been made by the Identité
Judiciaire de la Préfecture de Police (IJPP). After this has been done, the fire scenes have been closed for any access
until the scenes were presented to the fire investigation teams on the 18th February to avoid any spoiling of traces or
spoliation of the scenes.
Quite a lot of people on the scene
After having finished the briefing, we moved once more to a nearby canteen for lunch, which gave us once more the chance
to talk to the other participants to exchange experencies.
Next to the lunchbreak we mounted a coach, organized by the LCPP, which drove us on site to Arcueil. There we had the opportunity
to observe the developpment of two fires inside the building from outside until their extinguishment through fire fighters
of the fire fighter brigade of Paris(BSPP) after a periode of about 20 minutes.
Before the groups were formed
While this time there have been again enough possibilities to talk to the other participants about this event.
After the extinguishment of the actual fires the predefined groups joined to enter the building to preview the different
fire scenes and to have a look on the measurement installations and the related equipment used on site.
Our group is called by Mr. Bazin
The fire scenes intended for the indepth investigation by one of the other groups could only be inspected visually, without
touching anything on the scene for not spoiling the traces and troubling the indepth work of these groups.
An observation could be made just by entering the building: the smell of fire places is quite international. Whether produced
in France or Germany it is very charcteristic and always identical. And supplementary it has an irrestistible atttraction on
clothes... — Isn't it?
In the command centre
At the end of the tour we arrived on the command centre, there where all started end where all ended, all those lines and cables coming from
sensors, surveillance cameras and explosive charges connecting them to measureing sets, displays, recorders, computers, release contacts and all the
other necessary equipment to control the developpment and flow of the tests, to record the images as well as the obtained data to be able to
document the entirety as it is inevitable for scientific tests.
Some parts of the measurement equipment
The amount of thoughts, work, personnel, and material to realize those tests and to make this event possible was enormous and really
It has to be mentioned that, for the planning, coordination, realization, and the analization of projects like this, people are needed,
which not only do their jobs, they need to have a passion for their profession. These are those who always want to know more about it,
those who don't fear to get dirty - in a physical way -, who do not fear the cold or the heat. They are real ressearchers which have
the magnanimity to share their results and to make it possible, that others, that perhaps don't have such possibilities or means, may
access the results of their work, to finally realize a progress for the whole community. This public-spirit, meanwhile rarely to find
in Germany, has fortunately survived with the French.
And still some more equipment
But now, back to the project:
Before we have started our indepth investigation, we have had the possibility to view an identical room with the same furniture inside,
a chance, rarely to be found in reallity. According to the information we received the complete furniture was a donnation of the holtel-chain Campanille,
as well as the bedclothes too.
The fire scene befor the fire started
The prefire situation was as follows:
A simple hotel room with two seperate beds, headed on the right wall seen from the entrance. The beds consisted of a simple wooden frame equipped
with polyurethane-foam mattreses.
A little desk with a central drawer column, containing three drawers was situated on the wall of the entrance door, left of the door seen from
Two windows to the road were located in the wall on the left, seen from entrance.
Two wall lamps were mounted, one in front of the first bed, the second behind the second bed, seen from the entrance.
A desk lamp was situated directly on top of the central column of the desk. Some brochures were placed on the desk in a plastic support.
Another view of the same room
Post fire situation: Informations according to the virtual police officer:
The room was originally occupied by two persons. One of them, a female was found dead betweeen bed and window next to the entrance.
A witness has heared the sounds of a dipute from this room just before the fire was discoverd.
The autopsy has been commenced, but has not yet been finished, therefore, no further information about the body was available.
The second person was missing without a trace. No further information was available.
Information of the first responding fire figher:
The breaking of the windows occurred in a sequence:
The first window that broke was the window farthest off the entrance.
The room after a fire of about 20 minutes
The destruction of the room was almost complete. Fragments of the wooden bedsteads were still remaining, but their positions have been
changed by fire fighters.
The reconstruction of the original positions of the bedsteads was possible. The matresses have been consumed by the fire entirely,
as well as the bedclothes too.
The destruction of the beadstead nearest to the entrance was slightly more severe, than the destruction of the second beadstead.
The centre column of the desk was showing a severe burnt surface but was still, more or less existent. The position of the desk centre
colum was sightly out of its positon during the fire. (possible firefighter influence)
The tabletop was broken on both sides of the centre column. A severe spalling of the wall above the desk could be observed.
The remains of the three lamp shades have been found on the ground where the should have been, near their original positions.
The inside of the entrance door showed buring traces on the partially missing surface, which came mostly from the direction of the desk
placed in front of the wall besides the door.
Another view of the devastation
Supplementary information of the virtual police officer:
There was no electric energy in the room just before and while the fire. (virtual current interruption)
On request: It's been night time when the fire was discovered. On request: No candles were in the room prior to the fire.
Reconstruction of the pre fire positions of the remains of the wooden beadsteads, as far as possible.
Systematic search for resiudues if ignitable liquids (respective hydrocarbon traces / volatile organic compounds) with the help
of a photoionization dectector (PID) all over the room. Result: None.
The investigators have started to work
Conclusions and reflections:
On account of the statement of the fire fighter, who observed the destruction of the windows while the fire has already broken out,
any external intervention as for example shooting could be excluded reliable. Based on the information of the virtual police officer
that the room was not supplied with electrical energy prior to and while the fire and due to the fact that no other technical
installations have been found in the room, the complex of technical, accidental causes could be excluded too with absolute security.
Knowing, that the fire broke out in night time, it was possible to exclude external focssed radiation for sure too. The knowledge of
the actual weather conditions at the beginning of the fire, made it also possible to exclude lightning stikes as a possible cause. This way the
whole complex of possible natural causes could therefore be excluded.
Because it was sure that no candles have been in the room and no remains of cigarettes, cigars, cigarette packets, ashtrays, stoves,
matches, matchboxes, and lighters have been found on the scene, it didn't seem very probable, that the fire occurred due to negligence
by the use of such or similar devices. This way imprudence could be excluded, up to a certain degree, also.
Sandrine of the LCPP working just on the origine, while the gents have chosen the hard work to
observe her ;-)
Concerning the localization of the seat of the fire there have been only very rare real traces left, because of the fact that the descruction
of the room was very consistent over the whole place. Only slight differences were visible between the wooden beadsteads, whereas
the one placed next to the entrance showed slightly more destruction on the far end from the wall against which it was placed, but this
might have been the result of the influence of the nearby placed burning desk. The fire load of the two burned beds was practically
identical and as in this case where the fire had enough time to burn the material next to entirely, the traces left depended much more
on the present fire load itself than on the amount of time since its ignition.
Such a situation, in which the fire has had enough time to
consume nearly all combustibles present, will lead in most cases to a fire load governed burn pattern.
Supplementary there was the destruction sequence of the two windows, which seemed to indicate an origin far more in the depth of the room,
compared to the traces on the beadsteads, observations which seemed to be contradictory among each other.
What could have been done supplementary would have been the complete removal of all debris in the room to have an open view on the floor
coating, which might have revealed traces of the fire movement within the room. But this has not been possible due to the given time
We arrived at the conclusion that the fire has occurred due to a human intervention, but to state it clearly, and that's a chapter that's
hard to accept for the members of the group, even on a scene of such a simplicity, we have not been able to reveal neither the seat of
the fire, nor its precise cause.
It's not been a disgrace, that we did not find neither the seat of the fire nor its precise cause, because it's always necessary to remind oneself
that this arrives from time to time with a certain regularity in this kind of profession. But when it happens, it is necessary to admit
and state it absolutely clear that it is the case, as we are on the search for truth and we are not here to produce us as infallible.
If the remains do not leave or do not contain enough traces to be able to recognize them, we will never be able to prove whatever it will
be on a technical/scientifc level. It is our task to recognize these traces if it is possible, it is also our task to improve the possibilities
of recognition as far as possible, but it is certainly not our task to invent or to spoof traces.
Nevertheless, there have been enough things to be learned from this event:
There have been too many people on the scene, for sure a limitation related to the event itself an the huge interest of the
participants in this event.
A siutation which hardly can be avoided in such interesting training situations. But groups of 10 to 11 persons are certainly
too large to obtain optimal results. Groups of around 5 persons would be ideal in my opinion. But this would have made it necessary
to double the fire scenes - which isn't that easy to realize.
We were not organized on the group level. This defiency certainly resulted from the group size and the short period of its
existence. This way the group members hindered each other. A splitting up and appointment of the different missions to accomplish
among the group members would certaily have been advantageous to all.
It's of no use to set oneself under temporal pressure, as it only favourises the possibilities to forget someting important or to
omit necessary work.
The sequence of the destruction of windows in a fire doesn't necessarily deliver information about its origin.
To be able to finish this report about the fire investigation section of this event it is necessary to wait for the evaluation of the
results of the other groups, which will be done within a debriefing of these groups which will be performed on 13th of May 2009.
To be able to write a report about the entire event, it is necessary to wait for the evaluation of the results of this event,
which will occupy the experts of the LCPP for sure for some months to come.
In the meantime it is necessary to thank all those who made this great event and our participation possible by their indefatigable
Ingenieurbüro Frank Markmann