Texas State studies impact of fire on human bodies to improve forensic investigations

Research & Innovation

Jayme Blaschke | November 3, 2022

grey suv on fire with large black clouds of smoke

A Texas State University team is researching how an array of factors can impact burn patterns and skeletal destruction in structural and vehicle fires to improve how evidence is gathered and analyzed in forensic investigations.

The study is supported by a $1 million National Institute of Justice grant to the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State (FACTS).

A key component of this study will involve human remains burned under controlled circumstances using national firefighter response times and procedures. The project will be conducted over a three-year period using 42 donated bodies set up in four structure scenes and two vehicle scenes each year. Detailed thermocouple, 3D point cloud data and video will be collected during scheduled fire death investigation training courses at Texas State in conjunction with the Collin County Fire Investigators Association, Inc.

The study will examine how time, temperature, fire environment, body mass and decomposition contribute to the observed differences in burn patterns and skeletal destruction in structural and vehicle fires. The team will leverage the expertise of fire death investigators, firefighters, law enforcement agents, electrical engineers and anthropologists to address problems associated with investigating fatal fire scenes.

The study will inform anthropologist protocols for documenting and analyzing burned human bone and inform policy and practices in fire death investigations. Ultimately the research will lead to a structured proficiency training course and performance standards for fire departments, crime scene investigators and forensic scientists.

The research team includes Danny Wescott, director of FACTS, Tim Gocha, associate director of FACTS, Sophia Mavroudas, coordinator of FACTS, Nick Herrmann, professor in the Department of Anthropology, and Steve Seddig, a graduate student in the forensic anthropology program, as well as the fire marshal of Wiley and president of the Collin County Fire Investigators Association.  

For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922