fire4Was the fire accidental or arson?

If arson is suspected, you should promptly click on “New Assignment” and get Unified on the case.

There are many red flags of arson that an adjuster can identify at his/her desk when the loss is reported. There are other red flags at the scene that can be discovered to determine whether or not further investigation is warranted.

Even if a fire is determined to be arson there are often many avenues of subrogation. When Unified is conducting the investigation, even in cases of arson, the client can expect all subrogation avenues to be fully investigated and documented.

If there are indicators that the fire did not occur as reported, then an independent fire expert should be assigned to conduct the scene examination. If the fire is determined to be arson by the local officials or by an independent fire expert, Unified recommends letting the independent investigator do a complete and thorough follow-up investigation.

Arsonists beware; when Unified is on the case we will turn over every leaf and uncover every fact about the claim.

Claim File Red Flags

fire23If it appears that the insured will benefit in any manner from the fire, even indirectly, the fire warrants further investigation.Unified will provide its clients with internal audits of claim files to identify and weigh indicators of fraud. Simply call the closest Unified Service Center and speak to one of our District Managers.

Below is a list of some common Claim File Red Flags.

  • Fires occurring at night
  • Insured out of town and with solid alibi
  • Recently issued policy
  • Recent endorsement to policy
  • Insured overly pushy
  • Insured very familiar with insurance terms
  • Insured behind on mortgage payments
  • Previous claims by insured
  • Hand-delivered proof of loss
  • Fires occurring close to expiration date of policy
  • Over-insured property
  • Property for sale
  • List of out-of-state suppliers
  • Many antiques claimed as destroyed
  • Sprinkler system recently de-activated
  • Alarm system not set
  • Recent decline in utility use
  • Business or liquor license lost by insured
  • Lease with fire-termination clause
  • Company needing to upgrade old equipment
  • Stock becoming obsolete (shoes, clothing, food products)

Fire Scene Red Flags

fire22The use of Fire Scene Red Flags should not be used as a final determinant to identify the origin and cause as incendiary.  The origin and cause of a fire can only be determined by the on-site fire investigator’s processing of the fire scene by use of the scientific method, as stated in the current edition of NFPA 921, The Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations.  Fire Scene Red Flags should only be used as additional data that should be evaluated and analyzed as part of the fire scene examination process.  To arrive at a hypothesis that a fire is incendiary requires the examination of all known facts and a cognitive and/or experimental challenge of those facts and must include a serious challenge of any “alternative theories”.  At Unified, all of our fire investigators and engineers have been trained in and utilize the scientific method in processing of fire scenes and evidence.

Below is a list of common Fire Scene Red Flags that the origin and cause investigator should evaluate and analyze during the fire scene examination.

  • Low burning
  • Large amount of damage
  • Unidentifiable point of origin
  • No “V” burn patterns present
  • Lack of accidental causes
  • Separate and unconnected fires
  • Unusual burn patterns and high heat stress
  • Windows blown away from structure
  • Evidence of forced entry
  • Missing inventory
  • Missing personal items such as photos, bibles, yearbooks, weapons, jewelry
  • Evidence of a previous fire
  • Unkept yard
  • “For sale” signs
  • Fuel cans
  • Fire extending beyond the perimeter of the structure


fire21All fires fall into one of three categories:

  • Accidental
  • Incendiary
  • Providential

Most fraudulent fires fit into the incendiary category, and where fraudulent fire occurs, a human hand is always involved. Somewhere, perhaps hidden in a maze of seemingly unimportant facts, lies a motive.

Motive may be the first indication of potential arson. Establishment of a motive also aids in identifying a potential or possible suspect. The following seven motives for incendiary fires are routine for fire investigators:

  • Fraud
  • Effort to hide another crime
  • Jealousy
  • Revenge
  • Thrill
  • Riots / Vandalism
  • Terrorism

Fraudulent fires set to defraud the insurance company are usually motivated by economics. When the corpus delicti of arson has been established, you can expect Unified to seek out and identify the motive for the fire.