Cars Go Up in Flames at Seminar on Arson Investigations

Mike Meulemans
Mike Meulemans

WAIPAHU (KHNL) -- Flames rip through several cars in Waipahu, while people stand around and watch. But don't worry, it's all on purpose, as several dozen people participate in a seminar on arson investigations.

Flames dance on the front seat of a car, while people watch and take notes. Within minutes, the fire consumes the car's interior, and thick black smoke shoots out.

"I'm surprised that a lot of things can be pretty flammable for vehicle fires," Doryn Matsuda, Honolulu Police Department evidence specialist, said.

Police, insurance officials and others are getting a valuable lesson in arson investigations.

Firefighters put out the flames. Then, the students search the charred remains for clues as to whether the fire's intentional.

"The vast majority of fires are not intentionally set. They're accidental," Mike Meulemans, insurance investigator, said. "Of course, the secret is to be able to determine how it started."

A person might torch a car to cover up a crime, or to commit insurance fraud. Investigators say sometimes, unraveling the mystery is not so simple.

"I think most of the folks here who investigate car fires like to think they have a, they're quite certain of what took place," Meulemans said. "But many times, it is totally undetermined. You simply can't tell from the physical evidence what happened."

But hands-on seminars, like this one, are designed to help.

"It gives us more exposures to what to look for in a crime scene investigation on a fire," Matsuda said.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm here to learn more," Meulemans said. "The more they know, the better they're able to arrive at the proper conclusion."

The group hosting this event says it tries to hold arson seminars at least twice a year.