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Arson Investigations in Florida

If you were charged with the criminal offense of arson in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL, or a surrounding county, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm. We are experienced in representing individuals charged with arson throughout the State of Florida.

Arson charged in Florida are extremely serious. The most serious arson cases involve a fatality, or an injured victim or responder. Although most arson investigations do not involve a death or serious bodily injury, if the fire resulted in significant dollar loss then the arson can be classified as a major fire or explosion.

In many of these cases, the suspect is held in custody or is released on bond pending a trial or resolution in court. Many of these cases also involve an allegation of burning a building or dwelling to defraud an insurance company under Florida Statute § 817.233.

We are familiar with the tactics used by the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, local fire departments, local Sheriff’s Offices, and local police departments when conducting arson investigations. We are also familiar with the "forensic experts" from the Florida Fire Marshal's Forensic Laboratory.

These lab techs conduct consultations with investigators and prosecutors on analyses and general aspects of forensic science in preparation for expert witness testimony in criminal court. The vast majority of these investigations are conducted by the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations in conjunction with local law enforcement officers.

You also need a criminal defense attorney experienced in fighting allegations of arson and insurance fraud cases in Florida. Arson charges are often based on highly circumstantial evidence.

Your attorney can retain an expert witness to contest the findings of state's crime labs, particularly when it comes to allegations that trace evidence of gasoline was contained in the fire debris samples taken from the scene.  To find out more, call the criminal defense attorneys in Tampa, experienced in arson defense at 813-250-0500 for a free, confidential consultation.


Florida Division of State Fire Marshal's Forensic Laboratory

In the early 1970's, the Florida Division of State Fire Marshal established a forensic laboratory known as the Florida Fire Marshal Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis (BFFEA). On July 1, 2016, the BFFEA became part of the Division of Investigative & Forensic Services. The Bureau Chief is Carl Chasteen. Many of these investigations involve fire debris sample analyzed by the Florida Fire Marshall's Crime Lab.

When the fire debris sample is sent to the Florida Fire Marshal Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis (BFFEA), the lab tech usually knows that the investigator suspects that an ignitable liquid was used. Most of these fire debris samples come from the suspected area of origin in between the center and the edge of a pattern suspected of containing an ignitable liquid. In other words, the lab tech already knows that the sample is expected to contain an ignitable liquid.

The lab reports submitted by the BFFEA are often inaccurate and unreliable. In these cases, it is important to retain an expert who can analyze the techniques used by the crime lab. It is also possible to have the sample analyzed by an independent laboratory.


What Does the State Fire Marshal of Florida's Crime Lab Do?

The State Fire Marshal of Florida is one of only three State Fire Marshals in the United States to have their own laboratory dedicated to the forensic analysis of evidence from fires and explosions. The chemistry section provides analysis of fire debris to identify and determine the presence of:

  • any ignitable liquids such as gasoline;
  • explosives debris and residues to identify chemical components of the explosives; and
  • non-drug chemicals recovered from clandestine laboratories.

No other State of Florida laboratory provides these services to law enforcement.

The laboratory also provides imaging services to the SFM by analyzing videos tied to a fire scene investigation or attempting to recover information from damaged equipment. The laboratory also serves as the central repository for all digital photos from the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations. Analysts also provide expert witness testimony.


Administrative Rules for Florida's Arson Laboratory

The latest version of the final adopted rule presented in the Florida Administrative Code (FAC) is Rule: 69A-63.001. The rule applies to the Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis for Requirements and Procedures for Submission of Evidence (Transferred). The rules are governed by the Department of Financial Services under the Division of State Fire Marshal for the Arson Laboratory. 

The rule, with formatting changes to make it more readable online, provides:

69A-63.001 Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis Requirements and Procedures for Submission of Evidence.

(1) Evidence will be accepted from public law enforcement agencies and fire service agencies in matters related to criminal investigations.

Other evidence is permitted to be accepted from other public agencies in special circumstances, but must be approved by the Bureau Chief. The criteria that will be considered for approval are the urgency of the evidence submitted, the use to which the evidence will be put after analysis, the importance of the evidence, and any other relevant factor bearing on the need for the laboratory to analyze the evidence.

The Bureau publishes a Guide to the Collection, Packaging, Submission and Analysis of Evidence, Form DFS-K1-2127, http://www.flrules.org/Gateway/reference.asp?No=Ref-03898, Eff. 09/30/2013, which is hereby adopted and incorporated by reference, that provides the minimum requirements for submitting evidence.

The guide may be obtained by writing to the Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis at 38 Academy Drive, Havana, Florida 32333 or by accessing the Bureau’s website under the Chemical Analysis page at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/SFM/BFFEA/ChemicalAnalysis/default.htm.

The criteria that will be considered for approval are the urgency of the evidence submitted, the use to which the evidence will be put after analysis, the importance of the evidence, and any other relevant factor bearing on the need for the laboratory to analyze the evidence.

The Bureau publishes a Guide to the Collection, Packaging, Submission and Analysis of Evidence, Form DFS-K1-2127, http://www.flrules.org/Gateway/reference.asp?No=Ref-03898, Eff. 09/30/2013, which is hereby adopted and incorporated by reference, that provides the minimum requirements for submitting evidence. The guide may be obtained by writing to the Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis at 38 Academy Drive, Havana, Florida 32333 or by accessing the Bureau’s website under the Chemical Analysis page at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/SFM/BFFEA/ChemicalAnalysis/default.htm.

The Bureau publishes a Guide to the Collection, Packaging, Submission and Analysis of Evidence, Form DFS-K1-2127, http://www.flrules.org/Gateway/reference.asp?No=Ref-03898, Eff. 09/30/2013, which is hereby adopted and incorporated by reference, that provides the minimum requirements for submitting evidence.

The guide may be obtained by writing to the Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis at 38 Academy Drive, Havana, Florida 32333 or by accessing the Bureau’s website under the Chemical Analysis page at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/SFM/BFFEA/ChemicalAnalysis/default.htm.

The guide may be obtained by writing to the Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis at 38 Academy Drive, Havana, Florida 32333 or by accessing the Bureau’s website under the Chemical Analysis page at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/SFM/BFFEA/ChemicalAnalysis/default.htm.

(2) The Evidence Submission Form.

By completely and properly filling out the submission form, Form DFS-K1-1096, http://www.flrules.org/Gateway/reference.asp?No=Ref-03897, Revised 04/27/2012, which is hereby adopted and incorporated by reference, the investigator is documenting all the information necessary for the laboratory to track and process the case. Form DFS-K1-1096 also provides a chain of custody for the evidence’s receipt and return.

This laboratory uses a computerized laboratory information management system. Because of this, there are certain items of information that are required to properly log the case. The information required on the Evidence Submission Form (Form DFS-K1-1096) is described within the Guide to the Collection, Packaging, Submission and Analysis of Evidence, rev. 09/30/2013. The form itself may be obtained by writing to the Bureau or by downloading it from the Bureau’s website under the Chemical Analysis page, http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/SFM/BFFEA/ChemicalAnalysis/default.htm.

By completely and properly filling out the submission form, Form DFS-K1-1096, http://www.flrules.org/Gateway/reference.asp?No=Ref-03897, Revised 04/27/2012, which is hereby adopted and incorporated by reference, the investigator is documenting all the information necessary for the laboratory to track and process the case. Form DFS-K1-1096 also provides a chain of custody for the evidence’s receipt and return.

This laboratory uses a computerized laboratory information management system. Because of this, there are certain items of information that are required to properly log the case.

The information required on the Evidence Submission Form (Form DFS-K1-1096) is described within the Guide to the Collection, Packaging, Submission and Analysis of Evidence, rev. 09/30/2013. The form itself may be obtained by writing to the Bureau or by downloading it from the Bureau’s website under the Chemical Analysis page, http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/SFM/BFFEA/ChemicalAnalysis/default.htm.

Form DFS-K1-1096 also provides a chain of custody for the evidence’s receipt and return. This laboratory uses a computerized laboratory information management system. Because of this, there are certain items of information that are required to properly log the case. The information required on the Evidence Submission Form (Form DFS-K1-1096) is described within the Guide to the Collection, Packaging, Submission and Analysis of Evidence, rev. 09/30/2013.

The form itself may be obtained by writing to the Bureau or by downloading it from the Bureau’s website under the Chemical Analysis page, http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/SFM/BFFEA/ChemicalAnalysis/default.htm.

The information required on the Evidence Submission Form (Form DFS-K1-1096) is described within the Guide to the Collection, Packaging, Submission and Analysis of Evidence, rev. 09/30/2013. The form itself may be obtained by writing to the Bureau or by downloading it from the Bureau’s website under the Chemical Analysis page, http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/SFM/BFFEA/ChemicalAnalysis/default.htm.

(3) Sample Return –

All items of evidence shall be returned to the submitting agency or their representative. Agencies are requested to provide their third party courier account number to cover the costs for

All items of evidence shall be returned to the submitting agency or their representative. Agencies are requested to provide their third party courier account number to cover the costs for return of evidence. Submitters must additionally be aware that following testing and identification, there may be some samples which cannot be commercially shipped. The submitter has the responsibility to pick up their evidence from the Bureau within 60 days of the Bureau’s request or their submission privileges shall be revoked.

Submitters must additionally be aware that following testing and identification, there may be some samples which cannot be commercially shipped. The submitter has the responsibility to pick up their evidence from the Bureau within 60 days of the Bureau’s request or their submission privileges shall be revoked.

The submitter has the responsibility to pick up their evidence from the Bureau within 60 days of the Bureau’s request or their submission privileges shall be revoked.

Rulemaking Authority 633.104(1) FS. Law Implemented 633.112 FS. History–New 7-13-03, Formerly 4A-63.001, Amended 4-13-14, Transferred to 69D-5.001.


Different Types of Arson Charges

Florida provides for several different types of arson charges including:

  • Arson — First Degree § 806.01(1), Fla.Stat.
  • Arson — Second Degree § 806.01(2), Fla.Stat.
  • Arson — Fire Bomb § 806.111, Fla.Stat.

Definitions in Florida's Arson Statute

Under Florida Statute § 806.01(3), the term "structure" is defined to mean the following:

  • any building of any kind;
  • any enclosed area with a roof over it;
  • any real property and its appurtenances;
  • any tent or other portable building;
  • any vehicle;
  • any vessel;
  • any watercraft; or
  • any aircraft.

Under Florida Statute § 806.01(1)(a), any person who willfully and unlawfully uses a fire or explosion to damage a dwelling is guilty of the serious felony offense of arson. Arson can include starting a fire in a wide variety of different buildings and structures. The penalties are enhanced if the building or structure is occupied.

Under Florida Statute § 806.01(1)(b), enhanced penalties apply if the structure is an institution such as a school, department store, office building, business, church, hospital, nursing home, healthcare facility, jail, prison, detention center, and similar facility.


Arson - First Degree § 806.01(1), Fla.Stat.

One of the best ways to understand the criminal offense of arson is to look at the jury instructions for that crime. The jury instruction in section 12 for arson was adopted in 1981 and was amended in 1992 [603 So. 2d 1175] and 2013.

The criminal offense of arson in the first degree under Florida Statute Section 806.01(1) has several elements that must be proven at trial beyond all reasonable doubt, including the following::

  1. The defendant damaged or caused to be damaged any structure or the contents alleged by a fire or explosion;
  2. The damage was done either willfully and unlawfully OR the damage was caused while defendant was engaged in the commission of felony alleged (which can include burglary).
  3. The structure alleged was either a dwelling (if charged under § 806.01(1)(a)) or an institution in which the damage occurred during normal hours of occupancy or anywhere persons normally are present (if charged under § 806.01(1)(b)) OR a structure (if charged under § 806.01(1)(c))
  4. The defendant knew or had reasonable grounds to believe the structure alleged was occupied by a human being.

Lesser included offenses of first-degree arson include arson in the second degree under 806.01(2), attempted arson under 777.04(1) or criminal mischief under 806.13.


Arson — Second Degree § 806.01(2), Fla.Stat.

One of the best ways to understand the crime of arson in the second degree is to look at the jury instruction Section 12.2 which was originally adopted in 1981 and subsequently amended in 1992.

Under Florida Statute § 806.01(2), to prove arson in the second degree at trial the prosecutor for the State Attorney's Office must prove the following elements beyond all reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant caused to be damaged or damaged a structure alleged, owned by the defendant or another, by explosion or fire.
  2. Either the damage was done willfully and unlawfully, or the damage was caused while defendant was engaged in the commission of a specifically alleged felony which can include burglary.
  3. The structure alleged is a structure as defined under Florida Statute Section § 806.01(3).

Arson — Fire Bomb § 806.111, Fla.Stat

The jury instruction for arson by fire bomb was originally adopted in 1981 and subsequently amended in 1989. To prove the crime of arson under Florida Statute § 806.111, the prosecutor with the State Attorney's Office must prove the following elements beyond all reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant possessed a fire bomb or the defendant either manufactured, gave, loaned, offered to sale, transferred to, transported, disposed of, or offered to a specific person alleged a firebomb; and
  2. At the time, the defendant intended that the fire bomb would be willfully and unlawfully used to damage by fire or explosion to any structure or property.

Definition of Fire Bomb under Florida Law

Florida law defines the term fire bomb under Florida Statute § 806.111(2)(b), to mean a "container containing flammable liquid, or combustible liquid, or any incendiary chemical mixture or compound, having a wick or similar device capable of being ignited or other means capable of causing ignition; but no device commercially manufactured primarily for the purpose of illumination, heating, or cooking shall be deemed to be such a fire bomb."


Additional Resources

Florida Fire Marshall’s Bureau of Forensic Services - Visit the website of the Division of Investigative and Forensic Services to learn more about the Bureau of Forensic Services (BFFEA). Carl Chasteen serves as the first Bureau Chief of the Florida Fire Marshal’s Forensic Laboratory and acts as the database administrator. The Florida Fire Marshall’s BFFEA arson laboratory is located on the grounds of the Florida Public Institute near Midway, FL. The arson lab uses Gas Chromatography with Mass Spectral Detector as the instrument of choice for fire debris analysis. Infrared and Raman spectrometry is used in explosives and unknown chemical analysis. 

Florida's Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations - The BFAI is a branch of the Division of Investigative and Forensic Services that conducts arson, fire and explosives criminal investigations throughout Florida. The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations conducts approximately 4,000 fire investigations each year. In 2015 alone, the Bureau made an arrest in 414 cases involving 511 defendants. The BFAI detectives are highly trained experts in the field of arson investigation and are solidly supported by a team of skilled criminal intelligence analysts. Crime Intelligence Analysts allow the investigators more time to pursue the scene  investigation and latent follow-up necessary in a criminal investigation and also provide criminal information and intelligence for detection and prevention of arson and related criminal activities  

Biography of the Florida Arson Lab's Bureau Chief Carl Chasteen - The former supervisor and current Bureau Chief of the Florida Fire Marshal’s Forensic Laboratory is Carl Chasteen. He graduated from Ohio University in 1979 with a degree in Forensic Chemistry. He was a chemist with the State of Ohio, Division of State Fire Marshal, Bureau of Arson Crime Laboratory. During his work in Ohio, he analyzed over 12,000 samples including fire debris, explosives, hazardous materials, and developed latent fingerprints. 


Finding an Arson Attorney for Tampa, Hillsborough County

If you were charged with any type of arson crime under Florida law, then contact a criminal defense lawyer at the Sammis Law Firm. We represent clients charged with either first or second-degree arson to an occupied or unoccupied structure throughout the greater Tampa Bay area. Related charges under Florida law can include criminal mischief and burning to defraud an insurance company under Florida Statute § 817.233.

We represent clients in a wide variety of serious property crimes including Tampa in Hillsborough County, St. Petersburg or Clearwater in Pinellas County, Bartow or Lakeland in Polk County or New Port Richey or Dade City in Pasco County, FL.


This article was last updated by on Friday, August 5, 2016.