Arson Lab Uses Latest Technology To Track Criminals


UPDATED: Thursday July 18, 2013 11:47 PM

It's a fire designed to kill, destroy property or cover-up crimes.

Arson investigators admit solving an intentionally set fire can be a tricky crime to solve, but science is coming to the rescue.

“It's a crime as serious as any other crime. People can die in these arsons, and we take that work very seriously,” said State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers.

The investigations often end up inside the State Fire Marshal’s arson lab.

It was the first of its kind in the country when it opened in 1973.

Every kind of evidence that comes through the doors is examined.

“There's actually microbes in soil that will eat the ignitable liquids. We have to freeze it as soon as possible,” said Chad Wissinger, the Forensic Laboratory Chief.

The goal is to determine what caused a fire to start either intentionally or accidentally.

Lab workers say if it’s ignitable, they can find it.

Even finding an arsonist’s fingerprints among the charred ruins of a fire is not impossible anymore.

“A lot of people think it's destroyed, but it's really not. Same with explosions; people think when the bomb goes off, there's nothing left, but time and time again, we find fingerprints or DNA evidence,” said Wissinger.

Arson science is providing answers like never before, with the help of high-tech machines.

Scientest say a $100,000 x-ray machine pulls the chemical compounds out of a single drop, even though it's only a half milliliter in size. That's smaller than the wire used to make a paper clip.

“It's allowing us to see that we wouldn't be able to see 20 years ago,” added Wissinger.

That's not all they're seeing.

High powered video software can give arson investigators another advantage.

A program called “frame averaging” is used to change surveillance video of a darkened car license plate into a clear image that provides detectives a new clue into finding a suspect.

“That's like gold to them. That can break a case, right there,” said Wissinger.

And breaking cases is what the arson lab is all about.

Last year, the arson lab helped confirm nearly 240 crimes of arson statewide.

People who work at the lab believe the $800,000 facility can make it tougher for people can get away with arson.

According to the Ohio Department of Corrections, there are 136 people in prison for aggravated arson.

This month, Ohio's arson registry took effect.

Anyone convicted of an arson-related crime is required to register annually with the county sheriff where they live.

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