Forensic science, fire debris analysis, gas chromatography mass spectrometry, chemometrics, multivariate statistics, discriminant analysis, principal components analysis (pca), soft independent modeling of class analogy (simca), error rates, cross validation


Fire debris analysis currently relies on visual pattern recognition of the total ion chromatograms, extracted ion profiles, and target compound chromatograms to identify the presence of an ignitable liquid. This procedure is described in the ASTM International E1618-10 standard method. For large data sets, this methodology can be time consuming and is a subjective method, the accuracy of which is dependent upon the skill and experience of the analyst. This research aimed to develop an automated classification method for large data sets and investigated the use of the total ion spectrum (TIS). The TIS is calculated by taking an average mass spectrum across the entire chromatographic range and has been shown to contain sufficient information content for the identification of ignitable liquids. The TIS of ignitable liquids and substrates were compiled into model data sets. Substrates are defined as common building materials and household furnishings that are typically found at the scene of a fire and are, therefore, present in fire debris samples. Fire debris samples were also used which were obtained from laboratory-scale and large-scale burns. An automated classification method was developed using computational software that was written in-house. Within this method, a multi-step classification scheme was used to detect ignitable liquid residues in fire debris samples and assign these to the classes defined in ASTM E1618-10. Classifications were made using linear discriminant analysis, quadratic discriminant analysis (QDA), and soft independent modeling of class analogy (SIMCA). The model data sets iv were tested by cross-validation and used to classify fire debris samples. Correct classification rates were calculated for each data set. Classifier performance metrics were also calculated for the first step of the classification scheme which included false positive rates, true positive rates, and the precision of the method. The first step, which determines a sample to be positive or negative for ignitable liquid residue, is arguably the most important in the forensic application. Overall, the highest correct classification rates were achieved using QDA for the first step of the scheme and SIMCA for the remaining steps. In the first step of the classification scheme, correct classification rates of 95.3% and 89.2% were obtained using QDA to classify the crossvalidation test set and fire debris samples, respectively. For this step, the cross-validation test set resulted in a true positive rate of 96.2%, a false positive rate of 9.3%, and a precision of 98.2%. The fire debris data set had a true positive rate of 82.9%, a false positive rate of 1.3%, and a precision of 99.0%. Correct classifications rates of 100% were achieved for both data sets in the majority of the remaining steps which used SIMCA for classification. The lowest correct classification rate, 69.2%, was obtained for the fire debris samples in one of the final steps in the classification scheme. In this research, the first statistically valid error rates for fire debris analysis have been developed through cross-validation of large data sets. The fire debris analyst can use the automated method as a tool for detecting and classifying ignitable liquid residues in fire debris samples. The error rates reduce the subjectivity associated with the current methods and provide a level of confidence in sample classification that does not currently exist in forensic fire debris analysis.


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Graduation Date





Sigman, Michael


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program









Release Date

August 2014

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences, Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic

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Chemistry Commons