The Princeton Fire Marshal’s Office treats every fire scene as a possible crime scene in order to properly preserve any evidence of what may have been the cause. A fire scene is investigated from the area of least damage working backwards towards the area of the most severe damage. In some cases, the cause of the fire may be accidental due to faulty electrical wiring, overloaded electrical systems, candles, smoking materials such as cigarettes, faulty motors, cooking fires, or any other type of accidental fires. Some fires are natural, caused by decomposition of materials (a compost pile), lightning, or spontaneous combustion of some chemicals.
In other cases, the fire may be incendiary (arson), meaning that the fire was intentionally started. Some common motives for setting intentional fires are for profit (insurance fraud), revenge, and concealment of another crime (such as a home invasion, drug house, homicide, vehicle used in a robbery), vandalism, excitement, and extremism (extremist groups setting fires in order to further their cause). When a fire is determined to be arson, the Princeton Fire Marshal’s Office conduct a full criminal investigation aggressively pursuing those individuals responsible and execute arrest warrants, search warrants, and refer cases for prosecution with the Colin County criminal district attorney.