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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


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.

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

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Correspondence to Neil E. I. Langlois.

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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).

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