level of certainty is considered ‘probable’
3. V-burn patterns
should an opinion be expressed with rea-
Make sure to obtain copies of all 911
and other reports in admissible form, es-
pecially because the audio may become
unavailable. Interviews and photographs
taken by law enforcement, first respond-
ers, and fire marshals can be invaluable to
In wildfire investigations, look for the
4. Origin and cause
normal V-burn pattern. This should al-
ways be photographed from a bucket-
truck helicopter or airplane if overhead
electrical wires are a suspected cause.
Based on our experience, it is recommended that the attorney accompany the fire investigator as part of the team, especially on
joint inspections and interviews. It is important to keep asking questions respectfully and repeatedly of as many people as
possible. In one fire at a joint inspection, a
foreman candidly admitted cause after the
defendant repaired the power lines which
had started another fire.
When assembling the team of experts
required to assist a fire investigator, con-
sider including an electrical engineer, fire
scientist, electrical code expert and me-
chanical engineer. This helps to avoid any
“analytical gap” in expert analysis.
While these recommendations won’t
guarantee a favorable outcome, they will
go a long way to help ensure that all critical evidence has been preserved and that
the industry standard of care has been
followed by investigators.
Wolf Puckett is a trial law partner in Mullin
Hoard & Brown in Amarillo, Texas. With David
Mullin, Wolf litigated five catastrophic fires,
including two mega-wildfires destroying
almost 1 million acres, and tried a large loss
subrogation claim with lost profits.
Rick Womack, IAAI, CRI, is an International
Association of Arson Investigators Certified
Fire Investigator, and owns Priority 1 Fire
Investigation near Lubbock, Texas. He is a
highly regarded origin and cause expert in
wildland, explosions, residential, commercial,
industrial, vehicle, and heavy equipment fires,
as well as fire and explosion fatalities.
-William “Bubba” Ryan, CEO
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Interviewing witnesses at the scene as soon
as possible is critically important, including all
reporting parties and first-responders.