Fires and Explosions - PS601

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2020 to 2021
Autumn and Spring 6 15 (7.5) DR A Murray checkmark-circle


Physics and chemistry of fires and explosions:
Fire and arson – occurrence and importance. Combustion – definitions. Thermodynamics and enthalpy. Flammability limits, flash point, fire point, ignition temperature. Pyrolysis of wood and plastics. Fuels and accelerants. Propagation and spread of fires. Sampling and laboratory analysis of fire scene residues.
Explosions – definitions. Vapour phase and condensed phase explosions. Detonation and deflagration. High and low explosives. Primary and secondary high explosives. Molecular design of explosives. Survey of important explosives. Stoichiometry, oxygen balance, gas volumes, thermodynamics and enthalpy. Sampling and laboratory analysis of explosives residues. Preventative detection of explosives in contexts such as airports.

Fire dynamics. Propagation and spread of fires – flames, fire types, flashover. Fire investigation. Forensic Science Service procedures at the scene. Damage observation and assessment. Fire and smoke patterns. Sources of ignition. Injuries and fatalities. Evidence recovery: sampling and laboratory analysis. Establishing the origin : the seat of the fire. Finding the cause: natural, accidental, negligent or deliberate? Indicators of arson. Evidence procedures. Case studies.

Control of the explosion scene and procedures for recovery of evidence. Damage observation and assessment. The work of the Forensic Explosives Laboratory. Identification of explosives: organics and inorganics. Bulk analysis. Trace analysis of explosives: recovery, extraction and analysis of samples. Physical evidence: detonators. Preventative detection. Precursor identification. Explosives evidence in court: legal definitions and procedures. Terrorism. Case studies.


This module appears in the following module collections.

Contact hours

32 hours of lectures.


This is not available as a wild module.

Method of assessment

Examination: 80%; Coursework: 20%

Indicative reading

Crime Scene to Court, the Essentials of Forensic Science, 4th edition, ed. P. White. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2016. ISBN: 9781782624462. Chapters 9 and 10

  • Criminalistics, 10th edition, R. Saferstein. Prentice Hall, 2010. ISBN: 0132545799. Chapter 11
  • Forensic Science, 4th edition, A.R.W. Jackson & J. M. Jackson. Pearson, 2016. ISBN: 9781292088181. Chapters 10 & 11
  • The Chemistry of Explosives, J. Akhavan. Royal Society of Chemistry. 3rd edition, 2011, ISBN 9781849733304; 2nd edition, 2004, ISBN: 0854046402
  • Kirk's Fire Investigation, J. DeHaan. Prentice Hall. 7th edition, 2011, ISBN 9780135082638

    See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

    Learning outcomes

    The physics and chemistry of fires and explosions.

  • The principal areas of forensic investigation of fires and explosions.
  • The analysis and identification of accelerants, incendiary devices, explosives and explosive residues.
  • The management of fire and explosion scenes.
  • The observation and assessment of damage to buildings and vehicles, and injury to persons.
  • Identification of the causes of fires and explosions, and their classification as natural, accidental, negligent or deliberate.
  • Ability to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of essential facts, concepts, principles and theories relating to the subject areas identified above.
  • Ability to apply such knowledge and understanding to the solution of qualitative and quantitative problems.


    1. Credit level 6. Higher level module usually taken in Stage 3 of an undergraduate degree.
    2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
    3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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