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APRIL 7-12 2024


Woman on Fire - Testing the Hypotheses

Wednesday, April 10, 2024 (8:00am - 10:00am) (Celebrity 1-3)
In December 2013 a woman was found fully engulfed in fire walking down her driveway in Rouse Hill in Sydney with a man walking behind her trying to pat her out with his hands. She sustained over 90% full thickness burns to her body and died 17 hours later. In 2015 a coronial inquest was held to determine how she died. The coroner requested an expert opinion into the origin and cause of the fire. He had a number of questions for a fire expert to answer to better understand the point of ignition and how much of a liquid accelerant was used to create the fire that was observed by a number of witnesses that day. After reading the brief of evidence I informed police that the best way to determine the origin and cause of the fire was to try and replicate the burning the woman has sustained by setting on fire a stuntwoman and several manikins to test different hypotheses as to how it was possible she had sustained 90% burns to her body. The live fire tests were able to give Police and I a better understanding of fire behaviour to a human body that has had petrol poured onto it. After 14 fire tests I was able to formulate an opinion and present that to the coroner in Nov 2015. The coroner then closed the inquest and referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). In 2017 the DPP charged the husband with murder. This presentation will show how testing different hypotheses I was able to replicate the burning sustained by the victim. I then presented this opinion at two subsequent murder trials in the Supreme Court.


Michael Forbes

Michael has been with Fire + Rescue (FRNSW) for 29 years. He was an operational firefighter for 9 years before being promoted to Station Officer in 2003. He has over 15 years’ experience in the Fire Investigation and Research Unit (FIRU) after joining in 2007. He has over 14 years’ experience as a fire investigator where he investigated over 800 fires. He is currently the Team Leader for Fire Research at FIRU. He is a Graduate of the Institute of Fire Engineers (IFE). He completed the Graduate Certificate in Fire Investigation through Charles Sturt University in 2007. He is Certified Fire Investigator (IAAI-CFI) in 2013 through the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI).
He is also a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI) in 2014 through the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI). He was the first person to attain the Certified Fire Investigator through the Emergency Management Professionalisation Scheme (EMPS) in 2019. He was awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) in 2019 for his work in fire investigation in FRNSW. He is the current President of the NSW Association of Fire Investigators since 2014. He has attended over 50 incidents which involved at least one fatality. He has given expert opinion testimony in court over 20 times.

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