Fire Scene vs Gasoline

Thermodynamic Facts

Investigators implied, with zero evidence of Ron’s involvement, that Ron used a coffee cup or a medium-sized drink cup (roughly 12 fl. oz.) to transport gasoline into the area, distribute it along the hallway and stairwell, and then ignited it.

There was NO gasoline involved in the Meadows Carpet Fire!

Gas- 1 gal (128 fl. oz.)Gas- 12 fl. oz.Alcohol (undiluted)- 12 fl. oz.
Foot-pounds88,700,000 ft-lb8,320,000 ft-lb454,000 ft-lb
Joules120,000,000 J11,000,000 J600,000 J
Btu114,000 Btu10,700 Btu570 Btu
kilowatt-hours33.4 kWh3.13 kWh0.167 kWh
Dynamite equivalence20 sticks (or more)2 sticks0 sticks
Minimum Ignition Energy (static or electrical spark)Autoignition temp (F)
Gasoline0.8 mJ536 deg F
Isopropyl Alcohol0.6 mJ750 deg F
Minimum Ignition Energy (MIE) is the smallest amount of energy required to ignite the material. The MIEs for gasoline and alcohol are far below what a human can perceive; a person can ignite gasoline or alcohol through a static discharge without being aware of a static discharge. Autoignition temperature is the lowest temperature at which a material will spontaneously ignite in a normal atmosphere without an external source of ignition, such as a flame or spark.

In most homes and domestic settings like the Meadows, the alcohols will be diluted with water and/or organic solids in liquors, thereby limiting the alcohol’s evaporation rate and rendering an ignited alcohol non-explosive. Also, since the alcohols burn with a clean, smokeless, moderate, non-luminescent flame, fire can start and progress undetected until the heat ignites other flammables or singes plastics (polyethylene carpet fibers), creating visible flame and black, sooty smoke. Once the alcohol has expended itself, the remaining flames will be that of the debris which the heat of the alcohol’s invisible flames had ignited.

“Black, dense smoke is a result of the type of fuel burning in a room and the efficiency of the combustion. Modern synthetic materials [including carpets at the Meadows] are almost always petroleum-based and, when burned in a typical fire, release large quantities of black soot and dark pyrolysis products.” (Kirk’s Fire Investigation – Eighth Edition, p494)

“…Many building and upholstery products involved in fires today are synthetic materials that share the same petroleum-based origin as most accelerants [e.g., gasoline].” (Kirk’s Fire Investigation – Eighth Edition, p497-498)

Gasoline Attributes Missing in the Meadows Carpet Fire

Officer’s bodycam video footage of the stairwell after the small, mild carpet fire. Prefaced with two still text frames with audio.
  1. There was NO gasoline smell reported. Investigators never claimed to have noticed its odor, which would have been noticeable after the fire.
  2. There was NO flash, including at the moment of ignition.
  3. This fire posed very little danger and did not need any assistance to be extinguished. Real gasoline fires are notoriously difficult, pernicious and time consuming to extinguish. (There was no fire-suppression sprinkler system installed in the building at that time.)
  4. There was NO shockwave or pressure wave explosion or audible boom. If it had been gasoline ignited in the hallway, the resultant pressure wave and flamefront would have driven a three-foot wide jet of 3800-degree (F), violently-blooming fire through the 1/2-inch gap underneath each apartment door and especially the 3/4-inch gap underneath the hallway entrance door. The fuel-rich, heavier-than-air gasoline fumes would have ejected through those under-the-door gaps and ignited, creating a sheet of billowing flame that would have easily triggered (and been recorded by) the surveillance camera. That sheet of fire would have singed or incinerated the carpet outside the hallway entrance door and in each apartment entrance. But at the Meadows, there was NO indication that the fire strayed farther than a few inches of where the flammable liquid was spilled, and there was no indication that the fire approached the doors.
  5. There was NO significant heat or temperature increase in the fire area, on the order of 100s of degrees increase (in Fahrenheit) as would be generated by gasoline. Residents comfortably walked next to the fire at its most “ferocious” time.
  6. There was NO significant surface or structural damage to the building.
  7. There was NO sign of any person (the fire starter) being burned, hurled/propelled, or ejected from the fire area, nor any evidence of a delayed or remote ignition device. IMPORTANT: Ron had dried gasoline residue on him from an accidental spill that occurred 2 hours before the fire (~9:45pm) from a jug of gasoline that he did not know had a compromised cap and could not be securely sealed, which unexpectedly spilled out and saturated his pants and shoes with gasoline as he picked it up to move it, before he realized it. (Full explanation is here.) Investigators claim that he spilled gasoline on himself while allegedly distributing gasoline through the hallway and stairwell, but if that presumption were correct, Ron would have ignited with the building.
  8. The duration between alarm activation and the last known flame was less than 10 minutes, which doesn’t happen in structural gasoline fires.
  9. This extremely short-duration carpet fire soon extinguished itself in the stairwell and was nearly self-extinguished in the hallway (before Ron smothered the few remaining, dying flames with a fire extinguisher’s chemicals). This self-extinguishing nature does not generally occur in structural gasoline fires.
  10. If it had been a gasoline fire, the time of alarm activation would have been a time of intense fire ferocity.
  11. A gasoline fire gives off rapidly produced heat, small-particle grayish smoke and ionized soot that would have quickly triggered the smoke detector and the building’s fire alarm. In the surveillance footage of the Meadows Carpet Fire, it’s obvious that it took time for enough smoke or ionized gases to accumulate and reach the detector from the combustible debris and pyrolyzed plastic carpet (polyethylene fibers) of this trivial, “small” fire (as residents called it) to trigger the fire alarm.
  12. The witnesses of the fire called it a “small” fire and nothing indicative of a gasoline fire.
  13. There is NO record of anyone bringing any container capable of holding gasoline or any other liquid into the fire area.
  14. If it had been gasoline, the wicking of the gasoline into the carpet would have expanded the gasoline’s surface area, causing a much faster rate of vaporization and quickly forming a fuel-rich vapor cloud that would have caused a significant, skin- and hair-cremating flash (3800 F) and explosion upon ignition.
  15. Gasoline fires are easily detectable because of their ferocity and durability and destructive power. They are extremely difficult to suffocate or extinguish. Also, the Meadows stairwell has a large, unobstructed window that is visible from the parking lot, the road, and the even-closer sidewalks, and there is NO claim that anyone witnessed the fire through that stairwell window, including by the initial police officer who arrived within six minutes of the 911 call for the fire. Right before midnight, the officers and firemen would have been looking for the fire as they approached the property from the road, but they did not report seeing any sign of fire. None of the officers or firemen could initially tell where the fire was in the building, and they had to rely upon what a few of the residents reported.

The first officer on scene started his bodycam recording at 11:52:48pm (as aligned with the clock of the building’s surveillance system where it recorded this officer in the same, time-coordinating event). This was 5m48s after the surveillance system began recording the strobe lights of the activated alarm system at 11:47:00. When this initial officer arrived (i.e. started recording) at 11:52:48, Ron was still knocking on a deaf-and-blind resident’s door and had not yet attempted to extinguish the fire.

Thermal Dynamics

One (1) btu will raise 55 cubic ft of air one (1) degree Fahrenheit. If the Meadows Carpet Fire had been a gasoline fire, it would have had:

  • the obvious and permeating odor of gasoline, from the extensive distribution of gasoline through the 55-ft hallway and 40-ft pathway down the folded stairway;
  • an audible disturbance or physical indication of shockwave from its ignition (a vigorous or explosive ignition, a pressure wave, and, possibly, broken, shattered or ejected windows or disturbed ceiling tiles or other weakly supported surfaces damage);
  • intense heat and drastic rise in temperature, specific to these enclosed areas, with poorly ventilated recycled air (hallway), or near-static air (as in the stairwell). If just 1 cup of gasoline had been allowed to fully burn in the hallway, the hallway’s temperature is calculated to increase 200 deg F. to approach nearly 270 deg Fahrenheit. Since the stairwell is half of the spatial volume of the hallway, that same quantity of gasoline (or apparently more in this case) would raise the stairwell’s temperature about 400 deg Fahrenheit, so that the final stairwell temperature would approach or exceed 500 deg Fahrenheit.

Gasoline Characteristics

A gallon of gasoline has the kinetic energy of 80 million foot pounds (average) or 123,000 Btu. One gallon = 33 kilowatt hours. This is the equivalent of 33 space heaters in the Meadows’ north hall and stairway running on high for an hour. How hot would that be? Do you think there would be any paint, plastic or carpet left unblistered or unburned? If a gallon of gasoline had been spread and ignited with a cigarette lighter, the ignition and explosion would have blown out all the windows and doors of that hallway. It would have seriously burned, ejected (propelled), and likely killed the arsonist, and even the individuals in apartments attached to that hallway would have been seriously injured or killed. However, the individuals living in that hallway walked out uninjured and unharmed. The fire would not have burned out before the fire department arrived, had gasoline been used.

Meadows North Wing Structural Dimensions

The fire took place in the north, upper hallway and adjacent stairwell.

North Hallway

5 ft wide, 10 ft high, 56 ft long (Note the height includes the static ceiling, not just the drop-ceiling at 7.5 ft. No ceiling tiles or panels were lifted or displaced as a result of the fire.)

Total Surface Area: ~1800 sq. ft | Volume: ~2800 cu. ft

North Stairwell

The north stairwell is a folded stairway with a common ceiling that is tapered at an angle approximately following the upper half of the folded stairway, while the lower half continues downward underneath it. Underneath the upper flight of stairs is a small alcove.

Total Stairwell Surface Area: ~900 sq. ft | Volume: ~1400 cu. ft

Expected Gasoline Energy Expenditure

Investigators of the Meadows Carpet Fire implied that either about 1 cup or 1 gallon of gasoline was distributed through the hallway and stairwell.

A foot-pound (ft-lb) is the amount of energy or force required to lift one pound one foot. It is not dependent on time.

Our calculations assume that all the energy was converted into mechanical physical force (foot-pounds) of thrust and that portions of it were not lost as heat. Reflected energies from the rigid, static surfaces would add to, and find relief at, the weakest points of the structure (i.e. glass windows and doors).

On this page we use the average force values for different blends of gasoline. Given that a gallon of gasoline has the kinetic energy of about 80 million foot-pounds of force (the average value for different blends of gasoline):

  • 1 gal gasoline: 80,000,000 ft-lb, enough force to lift 80,000,000 pounds one foot, or lift one pound 80,000,000 feet.
  • 1 cup gasoline = 1/16 gal gasoline: 5,000,000 ft-lb, enough force to lift 5,000,000 pounds one foot, or lift one pound 5,000,000 feet.

Scenario: 1/2 gallon gasoline

If 1/2 gal of gasoline is distributed in the hallway and the remaining 1/2 gal is used in the stairwell.

1/2 gal gasoline provides 40,000,000 ft-lb of force.

Hallway: 40,000,000 ft-lb / 1800 sq. ft surface area in hallway = 22000 lb / sq. ft, or 11 tons force on each square foot in hallway!

Hallway glass window area: 4.5 ft x 6 ft = 27 sq. ft. The total force against the hallway window is 22000 lb * 27 sq. ft = 594000 lb (or 297 tons) against the window! Each of the 21-sq. ft doors within that hallway * 22000 lb per sq. ft, would experience 462000 lb (or 231 tons) of force.

Stairwell: 40,000,000 ft-lb / 900 sq. ft surface area in stairwell = 44,000 lb / sq. ft, or 22 tons force on each square foot in stairwell!

Stairwell glass window area: 7 ft x 3 ft = 21 sq. ft. The total force against the stairwell window is 44000 lb * 21 sq. ft = 924000 lb (or 460 tons) against the window! The stairwell doors are also 21 sq. ft and would also experience the same force.

Scenario: 1/2 cup gasoline

Now, if 1/2 cup(!) of gasoline is distributed in the hallway and the remaining 1/2 cup is used in the stairwell.

1/2 cup gasoline provides 2,500,000 ft-lb of force.

Hallway: 2,500,000 ft-lb / 1800 sq. ft surface area in hallway = 1400 lb / sq. ft, or 0.7 tons force on each square foot in hallway!

Hallway glass window area: 4.5 ft x 6 ft = 27 sq. ft. The total force against the hallway window is 1400 lb * 27 sq. ft = 38000 lb (or 19 tons) of force against the window! Each of the 21-sq. ft doors within that hallway * 1400 lb per sq. ft, would experience 29000 lb (or 14.7 tons) of force.

Stairwell: 2,500,000 ft-lb / 900 sq. ft surface area in stairwell = 2800 lb / sq. ft, or 1.4 tons force on each square foot in stairwell!

Stairwell glass window area: 7 ft x 3 ft = 21 sq. ft. The total force against the stairwell window is 2800 lb * 21 sq. ft = 59000 lb (or 29.5 tons) against the window! The stairwell doors would experience the same force.

Tenths of a half cup of gasoline

Again, if that 1/2 cup of gasoline was distributed in the Meadows hallway, and another 1/2 cup distributed in the attached stairwell. But this time, let us presume that only 1/10th of either half cup ignited and combusted in the initial milliseconds of ignition, which would cause an explosion.

Hallway: If only a tenth of the total energy of the above half cup of gasoline was expended in the initial hallway explosion, would the window stay in place? The hallway glass window would experience 2900 lb force on it—nearly 1.5 TONS slamming against it! It would have shattered or propelled the window!

Stairwell: If only a tenth of the total energy of the above half cup of gasoline was expended in the initial stairwell explosion, would the window stay in place? The stairwell’s glass window would experience 5900 lb force on it—nearly TONS slamming against it! It would have shattered or propelled the window!

Consider that a 4000-lb vehicle (with passengers) may get 32 miles per gallon. One cup of gasoline would provide enough energy or force to drive or instantly propel the vehicle 2 miles, or 10,560 feet. It is not dependent on time; foot-pounds is not time dependent.

Gasoline is a product designed to fuel internal combustion engines. It is a highly volatile liquid, and its vapors can be ignited easily by a spark, flame or other hot object. When mixed with air in the right proportions, the vapor of one cup of gasoline has the explosive power of about five pounds [12 regular sticks] of dynamite, enough destructive force to destroy any house or car.

“Storing Gasoline and Other Flammables” by Timothy G. Prather from University of Tennessee Extension

A Unit Converter

Click on Gallons Gasoline <–> Foot-pounds Force

Plug in different values for amounts of gasoline to get a greater sense of the force of gasoline. Try 0.0625 gallons, which is 1/16 gallon or 1 cup.

The above converter website uses an even greater 97,000,000 foot-pounds per gallon gasoline, instead of the averaged 80,000,000 foot-pounds per gallon value that we’ve on this page.

Recap:

  • A foot-pound is the force or amount of energy required to lift one pound one foot.
  • 1 cup gasoline = 1/16 gal gasoline produces 5,000,000 ft-lb of force, enough force to lift 5,000,000 pounds one foot, or lift one pound 5,000,000 feet. If the average locomotive weighs 470,000 lb, just 1 cup gasoline can lift that locomotive 10 feet!