How investigators determine an arson

A house fire started just before 6pm Friday, near South 7th and Washington Street. (WTHI Photo, David Essex)
A house fire started just before 6pm Friday, near South 7th and Washington Street. (WTHI Photo, David Essex)

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – Remember this? Arson after arson after arson. The newest, a house on 7th and Washington Streets.

It went up in flames Friday night.

But to an arson investigator, it has a story. From an abandoned home to a victim of the latest arson.

“This is the kind of stuff we get. It’s obvious someone’s been squatting here,” said Norm Loudermilk, arson task force.

All of these things left behind by squatters are fodder for a fire starter.

“Trash cans and paper that’s left here. Everything that possibly could be combustible is and will burn if you give it enough fuel,” said Loudermilk.

Here’s how investigators determine the origin of the fire.

First rule – go from unburnt to burnt.

“You can see the soot about a foot down the wall. You see that line? Line of demarcation. What that does is point to the fire….here’s my arrow that points. That’s where the fire is,” said Loudermilk.

It points close to a basement window.

“I knew the fire started down here. And obviously you start seeing a little bit more damage,” said Loudermilk. “You can start seeing where the paint bubbled up. That’s caused from heat. Not direct fire contact. How do i know it’s from heat? About every other board is done.”

“You can look at these tresses here. There’s no alligatoring effect. An alligator looks like that. Heavy char,” said Loudermilk.

You see the char on the board gets heavier the closer you get to the origin of the fire.

“That is almost burnt away. The support walls from there to there are all burnt away,” said Loudermilk. “Could have burned left and right. Could have started the fire here. This looks like a tote. It’s a polymer. You can put a tote on top of there. Light it on fire….we know this was a set fire. There was no ignition source. No electrical issue. No gas leak. When you have an abandoned house that has no utilities, then the cause or source of ignition is suspect.”

This home didn’t stand a chance. Abandoned structures are targets.

“In the summer, people look at it like a flophouse. Where can I do my drugs, where can I make my meth where can I drink my alcohol, where can I get out of the rain,” said Loudermilk.

And this fire could have easily turned from a property crime to a violent crime.

“This place right next door isn’t very far away. That’s another bad thing about these arsonists when they decide to target abandoned homes. There so close to houses that are next door where people live that are asleep at night,” said Loudermilk.

This is where you come in.

“If you live near or around an abandoned house and you see activity, call the police,” said Loudermilk. “It gives us some place to look then. Right now, we’re standing on South 7th Street and we don’t have any idea who did this. The problem I have is it’s right in the middle of a residential area, on a major thoroughfare, and we don’t have any suspects.”

Even if no arrests are made when you call in suspicious behavior, this at least gives police something to go on.

You can call Crimestoppers as well. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you confirm your email address and acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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