It was a unique opportunity for investigators specializing in determining the cause of vehicle fires on Monday, November 6, 2023.
Russ Colosi from Colosi Vehicle Investigations and Steve Klimpel from Origin and Cause were at the Hamilton Township gravel pit on Nagle Road along with members of the Hamilton Township Fire Department along with members of other County fire services.
Both men are experts in determining the cause of suspicious fires and are hired by insurance companies.
On Monday, five vehicles were donated for the live burn by Chadwick’s Towing so both men could build a library and video vehicles that have been intentionally set on fire.
Each of the vehicles were set on fire at different locations inside or outside the vehicle using flammable materials.
Video of each burn was taken for a length of 15-minutes allowing investigators to view the fire from the early stages to fully involved.
“What we’re doing is setting a baseline, a library of different situations during vehicle fires,” said Colosi.
“So when we go to vehicle fires we have some kind of reference library.”
With the live fires in Hamilton Township, looking at the pattern, they can be possibly matched up to other fires investigated by the men to help determine the cause – including arson.
With different materials on vehicles, including hoods, even when the same amount of flammable liquid is poured over two different vehicles in the same spot, the end result after 15-minutes can be vastly different.
“Steel usually hangs out for the entire fire, but aluminum melts like soft chocolate. So we have to understand those things in order to make intelligent determinations.”
Colosi said Monday’s live fire was “super beneficial.”
“Sometimes it’s difficult to get the area of origin, so where on the vehicle the fire started. This helps us because it develops a baseline of patterns – it gives us direction. Whether it’s inside the vehicle, in the engine, under the vehicle – it’s very good for us.”
From the start of COVID when interest rates were lower for purchasing vehicles, Colosi said the industry is showing approximately 5% of vehicle fires were investigated before COVID with upwards of 40% being investigated now.
“It also means that the insurance companies are taking it a little more serious when they get the call. So we might not have investigated all the arson or suspicious fires in the past – but we certainly are now.”
“There is a warning out there – insurance companies are paying vehicle close attention to potential arsons in vehicle fires.”
Klimpel said the investigators work very close with the fire departments, like Hamilton Township and they are extremely grateful for the Township’s assistance.