Exposure to an intense fire can cause changes to a body that are easily misinterpreted as antemortem violence.

Change Caused By Exposure to Fire


bone fracture and fragmentation

antemortem trauma

gas expansion in skull with fracture or explosive decompression

gunshot or blow to the head

rupture of the abdominal wall secondary to gas expansion


contractions of muscles and tendons

rigor mortis


In general:

(1) Be very cautious in interpreting changes in a fire victim as antemortem violence.

(2) Try to determine the pattern and intensity of the fire. A minor fire would be unlikely to cause marked postmortem changes.

(3) Examine the pattern of changes relative to anatomic structures (cranial sutures, etc).

(4) Examine the edges of any wound or fracture very carefully.

(5) Look for evidence that may support a hypothesis of antemortem injury (presence of a gun or knife, bullet, eyewitness account, motive, toxicology, etc).

(6) Review the victim's past history.

(7) Consider the possibility of injury caused to the person while trying to escape the fire.


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