Boat Fire Case Study

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Video Transcript

Wendy Sanders:

This was an interesting case. This was a boat fire that occurred. The fire started on boat one. It was connected to shore power. Fire spread to three additional boats, so there were four boats that were destroyed as a result of this fire. While the fire started on boat one, if it were found that the boat one's failure to maintain their equipment caused the fire, then they would be responsible for all of the cost of cleanup and replacement.

I got involved after the boat remnants had been discarded. It's really hard for me to do a fire investigation without hands on the evidence, without actually examining it, but they had a lot of photographs. I said, okay, I'll take a look. I'll see what I can do. I was able to establish an area of origin, but in terms of an actual cause, I was not able to do any testing or any specific analysis because I didn't have anything to work with. I was very clear with the client that that was the limit of what I was going to be able to do absent actual artifacts in this particular case.

Interestingly, during discovery, some depositions were taken and some additional photos were provided. There were photos of bagged evidence and there were evidence logs. While the boat itself, the big large carcass of a burnt boat had been discarded, all of the interesting artifacts that had been retained from the initial investigation had been packaged and were on a pallet in somebody's facility and so those were located. At that time we pressed pause and said, okay, let's take a look at the evidence and that was where things got really interesting.

They shipped all of the evidence here to our lab and we invited whoever wanted to be a part of the inspection to be a part of the inspection. There was a piece of metal that had potential either melting or arcing evidence on it, and that piece of metal matched a component of this shore power cable. Actually, I have a piece here. This is one that obviously hasn't been through a fire, but you can see that there's a grounding ring on the inside of this plug. All this plastic was gone because it had been through the fire, but this metal ring, which is predominantly a steel alloy was still there, but it had a big chunk missing out of it and these globules on it. We said, hey, this is interesting. This looks like it could be consistent with electrical activity. Let's do some analysis.

The globules were made of copper, which means they weren't actually part of this ring, they were part of a conductor, a wire of some sort. If you take the housing off, the arcing occurred back inside the housing, which is an indication that there was some sort of breach between the cabling here, which is made of copper and the ground ring here that's made of steel. The fact that it was encased in all this plastic was an indication that there was some sort of a maintenance issue or some sort of issue with the plug itself. These types of things are fairly common in the marine industry and this often goes back to shore power cables.

That's the nice thing about evidence. Evidence doesn't have a memory. It doesn't have a conscience, it's just science. Being able to examine the evidence and just in an unbiased fashion present what it shows, it's the fun part of the job because it's something that you absolutely can't argue with.