Volume 50, Issue 5 (September 2005)
A Review of the Analysis of Vegetable Oil Residues from Fire Debris Samples: Spontaneous Ignition, Vegetable Oils, and the Forensic Approach
This paper reviews the literature on the analysis of vegetable (and animal) oil residues from fire debris samples. The process of selfheating and spontaneous ignition is well-known by fire investigators and causes many fires. Vegetable oils are often the chemicals that originate such phenomenon. Vegetable oils are composed of lipids, which contain fatty acids. The autooxidation of the double bonds present in unsaturated fatty acids is the exothermic reaction at the origin of the self-heating process. The degree of unsaturation of fatty acids directly influences the propensity of an oil to undergo self-heating and, eventually, spontaneous ignition. When fire debris samples are collected, it is possible to examine them at the laboratory to extract and identify vegetable oil residues. This is typically performed by solvent extraction, followed by gas chromatographic(-mass spectrometric) analysis of the extract. Such analyses differ from ignitable liquid residue analyses, so a different forensic approach is necessary.