A still from the Lime Street Fire experiment.
Over the past 20 years, there’s been a revolution in the science of arson investigations. Many of the clues that had been used for decades to determine that a fire was not accidental, especially the analysis of burn patterns on walls and floors, have been proven to be false. This story looks closely at two deadly fires to explore the cutting edge of fire science—including how a new understanding of a phenomenon called flashover has disproved much of the old assumptions, and how clues left in victims’ blood can help determine how a fire started and spread.
This program is part of the STEM Story Project — distributed by PRX and made possible with funds from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Editorial support on this story provided by Life of the Law.
Badamaralu was the home village of Bhramarambika. (Photo by Michael May)
The story was on the front page of several local papers. A 22 year-old law student in Bangalore named Bhramarambika had died mysteriously while visiting her family in their rural village. Details on how she died were murky, but she was quickly buried without the police being called. Authorities were investigating her death as a possible honor killing. In other words, the family may have executed her for some transgression – for instance, falling in love with someone from the wrong caste.
The story fascinated me for the same reason it fascinated everyone else. It gave a face to the tensions underlying Indian’s urban growth. Rural Indians are flocking to the city to escape their humble roots, but not everyone makes it.
I decided to investigate the story with a fellow journalist who worked for an Indian paper. It didn’t turn out quite how we expected.
Listen to the piece on PRI’s The World.