Skip to main content

Review of autopsy reports of deaths relating to fire in South Australia 2000–2015

An Author Correction to this article was published on 28 June 2022

This article has been updated

Abstract

It has been noted there are gaps and inconsistencies in data pertaining to fire related deaths in Australia, which poses difficulties for analysis of national statistics. A search of post-mortem examination reports at Forensic Science SA from 2000 to 2015 revealed 275 cases regarded as fire related in which the body had been involved in a fire. The autopsy reports were evaluated to determine parameters including the location of the fire event, age and sex of victim, as well as the presence of soot in the airways and cherry-red coloration to the blood and/or organs, in addtion to toxicological levels of carboxyhemoglobin and alcohol. Fire events were clasified as structural, transportation or open air in type. Males were more commonly victims than females, especially in transportation fires, where males aged below 50 years were most at risk of death. Carboxyhemoglobin levels tended to be lower in victims of transportation fires. This study has confirmed that presence of soot in the respiratory tract and cherry-red coloration of a body retrieved from a fire are both linked to an increased level of blood carboxyhemoglobin. These findings significantly contribute to the documentation of fire deaths in Australia.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7

Change history

References

  1. Fanton L, Jdeed K, Tilhet-Coartet S, Malicier D. Criminal burning. Forensic Sci Int. 2006;158:87–93.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee. Use of smoke alarms to prevent smoke and fire related deaths. Canberra (AU): Commonwealth of Australia; 2016. pp. 64.

  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 3101.0 - Australian demographic statistics, Dec 2015. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/3101.0Main+Features1Dec+2015. Accessed 14 Feb 2018.

  4. 2015–2016 MFS Annual Report. https://safecom-files.s3.amazonaws.com/current%2Fdocs%2Fmfs_annual_report_20152016.pdf?response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3Dmfs_annual_report_20152016.pdf&Signature=K%2FpnGALD21a6QtclzchNHcHfl2I%3D&AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJQ4Q62CAGOAFH3RA&Expires=1518587215. Accessed 14 Feb 2018.

  5. 2011–2012 MFS Annual Report. https://safecom-files.s3.amazonaws.com/current%2Fdocs%2F20112012_mfs_annual_report.pdf?response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3D20112012_mfs_annual_report.pdf&Signature=wqOj%2B6SZPzeVK6NMdH4Xd4yNmgc%3D&AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJQ4Q62CAGOAFH3RA&Expires=1518587252. Accessed 14 Feb 2018.

  6. Collision Fatalities to 31/12/2016. https://www.police.sa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/2673/Collision-Casualties-To-Midnight-to-Date-DW001-V1.2-2018-01-01-07-01-4....pdf. Accessed 14 Feb 2018.

  7. Hirsch CS, Bost RO, Gerber SR, Cowan ME, Adelson L, Sunshine I. Carboxyhemoglobin concentrations in flash fire victims report six simultaneous fire fatalities without elevated carboxyhemoglobin. Am J Clin Pathol. 1977;68:317–20.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Yoshida M, Adachi J, Watabiki T, Tatsuno Y, Ishida N. A study on house fire victims: age, carboxyhemoglobin, hydrogen cyanide and hemolysis. Forensic Sci Int. 1991;52:13–20.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Saukko P, Knight B. Knights forensic pathology. London: Arnold; 2004. p. 312–25.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Bohnert M, Weinmann W, Pollak S. Problems associated with diagnosis the of vitality in burned bodies. Forensic Sci Int. 2003;135:197–205.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Carson HJ, Esslinger K. Carbon monoxide poisoning without cherry-red livor. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2001;22:233–5.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. DeHaan J, Icove G. Kirk's Fire Investigation. 7th ed. USA: Pearson; 2012. p. 635–43.

  13. Ruas F, Mendonça MC, Real FC, Vieira DN, Teixeira HM. Carbon monoxide poisoning as a cause of death and differential diagnosis in the forensic practice: a retrospective study, 2000-2010. J Forensic Legal Med. 2014;24:1–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Langlois NEI. Digital image analysis of fingernail colour in cadavers comparing carbon monoxide poisoning to controls. Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2010;6:9–12.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Watchman H, Walker GS, Randeberg LL, Langlois NEI. Re-oxygenation of post-mortem lividity by passive diffusion through the skin at low temperature. Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2011;7:333–5.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Belenki L, Sterzik V, Schulz K, Bohnert M. Analyzing reflectance spectra of human skin in legal medicine. J Biomed Opt. 2013;18:17004.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Bohnert M, Weinmann W, Pollak S. Spectrophotometric evaluation of postmortem lividity. Forensic Sci Int. 1999;99:149–58.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Paxton A. ABC of alcohol - alcohol in the body. Br Med J. 2005;330:85–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Runyan C, Bangdiwala S, Linzer M, Sacks J, Butts J. Risk factors for fatal residental fires. N Engl J Med. 1992;327:859–63.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Howland J, Hingson R. Alcohol as a risk factor for injuries or death due to fires and burns: review of the literature. PHR. 1987;102:475–83.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Levine B, Moore KA, Fowler D. Interaction between carbon monoxide and ethanol in fire fatalities. Forensic Sci Int. 2001;124:115–6.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Teige B, Lundevall J, Fleischer E. Carboxyhemoglobin concentrations in fire victims and in cases of fatal carbon monoxide poisoning. Zeitschrift für Rechtsmedizin. 1977;80:17–21.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Bruck D, Ball M, Thomas I. Fire fatalities and alcohol intake: analysis of key risk factors. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2011;72:731–6.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Financial support for this study was provided by FSSA, the Ross Vining Memorial Research Fund and Flinders University Summer Research Scholarship.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Neil E. I. Langlois.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sully, C.J., Walker, G.S. & Langlois, N.E.I. Review of autopsy reports of deaths relating to fire in South Australia 2000–2015. Forensic Sci Med Pathol 14, 180–187 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12024-018-9981-y

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12024-018-9981-y

Keywords

  • Fire
  • Fatility
  • Autopsy
  • Forensic pathology; carboxyhemoglobin
  • Soot
  • Cherry-red coloration