"Fire! To destroy all you've done!"
—Fire, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
The act of blowing up
or burning down
the evidence implicating you in some crime. Very popular among evil corporations
who go as far as torching entire city parts to cover up something particularly nasty. Often takes place when the heroes are in the middle of discovering said evidence
Very much Truth in Television
. Part of firefighter training is to be on the lookout for signs that fires might have been started to conceal another crime, such as noting if a window was broken before they put an axe through it to get into the building. Also known to happen in cases of insurance fraud.
of Revealing Coverup
. Also compare its sister tropes Gas Leak Coverup
and Kill It with Fire
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Anime & Manga
- Aoyama Pharmaceutical in Mnemosyne demolishes Sayara Yamanobe's secret lab soon after it is compromised in the first episode.
- Common in Detective Conan when the Men-In-Black are involved.
- Rurouni Kenshin - this was attempted on Shishio Makoto. It didn't kill him, but it did leave him covered head-to-toe with third degree burns.
- Triage X - The method the protagonists use to hide the evidence of their vigilante actions. Frequently involves destroying the entire (abandoned) city block.
- In Death Note, Light has an elaborate setup to hide the Death Note. It's in a drawer, under a false bottom, with a circuit underneath the false bottom, around the Death Note. There is a rubber pad that keeps the circuit from being completed when the false bottom is down; the only way to take it out is to slide the ink barrel of a pen through a small hole on the underside of the drawer to block the circuit and push the false bottom up. If the circuit is completed, the Death Note will be ignited. This way, even if they suspect that he's Kira, even if they know about the Death Note, even if they realize that there's a false bottom on the drawer, the Death Note will be reduced to ash and they will have no proof.
- Later he uses fiery deaths to dispose of Kiyomi Takada and Mello.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, Dr. Marcoh directs the Elric brothers to Central City's library for a coded message he left there about what the homunculi are doing. Unfortunately, the homunculi hear of this, and when the brothers arrive at Central City, they find that the entire library has been burned down.
- In the second Black Jack OAV an international drug cartel burns down the peyote grow op they've been running in the mountains when the authorities catch wind of it. Their plans are undone, however, when they make the mistake of attempting to dispose of Black Jack himself in the fire, alive, of course.
- In Seirei no Moribito, it is kind of an Establishing Character Moment for Balsa, when she accepts the task of hiding the prince so his father will never find him. She grabs as much of the offered jewels as she can easily carry, takes the prince, and orders the servants to burn down the wing of the palace to both as a distraction while they get away and to cover up what happened to the prince.
- In Identity Crisis, when Jean Loring accidentally kills Sue Dibny, she tries to cover it up by burning her body with a flame thrower.
- One of Herr Starr's first missions for the Holy Grail in Preacher is to kill a journalist who's likely to spill the beans on them, though they managed to get him locked up in an asylum. When they question his methods (he set the whole thing on fire), Starr justifies himself by saying that if only one guy had been killed, it would have looked suspicious.
- Lex Luthor does this to one of his own buildings at the beginning of Black Orchid, incidentally burning up the title character.
- In Destiny is a Hazy Thing, Naruto and Hinata use an explosion to cover up their discovery of a "dangerous knowledge" stash and and the deaths of the two ROOT agents who saw them.
- In Aeon Entelechy Evangelion the OIS forensic team tries to find any evidence on the group who compromised the airport security on the day Shinji arrived. Problem: They are doing in the aftermath of battle, where one side, the NEG Army, was desperate enough to lob relatively small tactical nuclear warheads at the other side, the Third Harbinger Asherah, who casually violates spacetime and reality while pwning the humans with ease. Suffice to say, there is not much to dig.
- In New World Without End Light and Mikami torch the Yellowbox warehouse.
- Resident Evil: Apocalypse. The Umbrella Corporation uses a 5 kiloton tactical nuclear warhead on Raccoon City to destroy the zombie infestation, as well as all evidence that they were responsible for it. They plan to claim that the explosion was a meltdown at a nuclear power plant, ignoring the fact that nuclear plants can't explode like a nuclear bomb.
- At the end of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, the government nukes the entire town to cover it up.
- Debatable. There were an awful lot of Aliens running around, at least one Predator, and it actually seemed like less of a cover-up and more of a Godzilla Threshold incident.
- In fairness, it's a way of taking care of both problems: the aliens and any inconvenient witnesses. Government wasts to get rid of the critters, but clearly also wanted to get rid of survivors.
- In Return of the Living Dead, the last survivors call the military for help and are assured they will take necessary steps... not to save them though. Apparently standard operating procedure for this kind of event is to napalm the affected area. This fails brilliantly as the fire just kicks more of the zombifying chemical into the air, to then fall as acid rain on an even larger area.
- In Outbreak, the military threatens to bomb the town in order to contain the virus.
- In The Hunt for Red October, Captain Ramios is trying to cover up disobeying his orders. The evidence is the orders in question.
- Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock and Watson are looking through the dwarf'snote laboratory when two of Blackwood's henchmen saunter in carrying arson equipment. Holmes is Genre Savvy enough to know what they've come to do. Then they call for Dredger and things turn into a fight.
- Taken Up to Eleven in the sequel, where Moriarty has an assassination carried out, in which not only is the room where the crime took place destroyed, but everyone who was in the room at the time is killed in the blast. But Holmes manages to figure out that it was a cover to hide the shooting of the owner of a weapons factory (the owner himself was shot in the head by Col. Moran from the roof of a nearby building with a sniper rifle, rather unnecessarily, seconds before the explosion happened). The explosion covered up the shooting and hid the true motive for the attack.
- In Face/Off, when Castor Troy wakes up from his coma and finds that his face has been removed and grafted onto Sean Archer, he forces Dr. Walsh to put Archer's face on him. Afterwards, Castor goes to Erewhon Prison where Archer-as-Castor is trying to learn the location of "Sinclaire" from Pollux Troy.
Castor Troy: [grins] Oooooee! You're good looking! Ya hot!
[Archer stares at Castor]
Castor Troy: It's like looking in a mirror, only not. Huh. [beat]
Sean Archer: Troy??
Castor Troy: Now that is between us, OK?
Sean Archer: [stammers] But you were—were—
Castor Troy: In a coma? Nothing like having your face cut off to disturb your sleep! [flashes a newspaper article in the real Archer's face] Read the newspaper lately? [Cuts to shots of Dr. Walsh, Tito and Miller bound, gagged, and being doused in gasoline]
Sean Archer: [seeing an article headlined "Deadly Inferno at Walsh Institute"] You killed them?
Castor Troy: Yeah well, beats paying the bill, huh? Come on, uh, if a face lift costs five grand...see anything you like!!??? [shows Archer's wedding ring on his hand; cut to a close-up of Tito screaming through his gag as he is doused in gasoline]
Sean Archer: Tito! [A hand flicks on a cigarette lighter and drops it in a puddle of gasoline, sparking a fire that spreads towards the hostages]
Castor Troy: I torched all the evidence that proves you're you, okay? Sooo, wow! Looks like you're going to be in here for THE NEXT HUNDRED YEARS!! Now, I have got to go. I've got a government job to abuse and [whispers into Archer's ear] a lonely wife to fuck. Oh, I'm sorry...make love to! God, I miss that face!
- In the novel Jericho Falls the U.S. government arranges a fully loaded airborne tanker to crash on a small town, destroying it in the massive fireball to cover up their killing of everyone there.
- In the Stephen King novel The Green Mile, Eduard Delacroix killed a young girl, then tried to burn her body to cover it up. The fire spreads to the rest of that apartment, killing six more. Thus, he ends up on Death Row.
- In Terry Pratchett's Jingo, one of these is used on the Klatchian embassy. The crime? Treason.
- In the Dean Koontz novel Sole Survivor, an NTSB engineer named Minh Tran analyzes the flight data recorder from a crashed plane, but someone doesn't want the public to know what's on it. He is killed and the recorder is destroyed in what is described as "an impossibly intense fire."
- In the Alastair Reynolds novel, The Prefect, the villain arranges it so that the exhaust from a starship drive would destroy a habitat where something nefarious was occurring.
- This is an unusual specimen, in that the goal was not to hide evidence; (almost) no-one would have complained about the actual target being destroyed, if it weren't for the fact that 900+ people were killed as a side effect.
- The criminal of the second book in the Knight and Rogue Series is actually trying to destroy evidence that he extorted money. To make it look less suspect, he burns several other building before going for the one he wants.
- A favourite method of Professional Killer Wesley in the Burke novels by Andrew Vachss. By burning down the entire building where the person lived, the police would be faced with a Needle in a Stack of Needles mystery, not a single homicide.
Live Action TV
- In the first season of 24, Keith Palmer's therapist dies in a fire as part of a government conspiracy. (It was probably arson. But you can't prove that.)
- In The X-Files's pilot, Mulder's motel room is burned to the ground to destroy evidence of alien abductions in Oregon.
- In season 2 finale "Anasazi", the Cigarette Smoking Man orders soldiers to burn down a boxcar with hybrid alien bodies. Mulder was inside of said boxcar as well.
- At the end of season 5, his and Scully's office is burned in a similar fashion.
- This has been done a few times in NCIS. Once, to cover up the death of Jenny Shepard, who died in California, by making it look like an unfortunate accident at home so that the newsmedia doesn't learn about the true cause of death. Another time, it is revealed that members of Moussad who are compromised will call in special teams that cover up evidence of the operative in question by staging a fire. In a third instance, a hostage is placed on a pressure plate that threatens to blow up everyone and everything in the room, including computer banks that contain considerable evidence if the hostage is removed (the hostage is safely removed in a manner referencing one of the Indiana Jones flicks and returned to safety, but the aforementioned evidence went up in smoke).
- In Nikita, Division uses this method to remove themselves from the scene of a crashed drug smuggling plane.
- Division also uses a large fire to cover up their involvement in the murder of the Udinov family.
- and Nikita herself uses this method in the finale, to destroy her safehouse.
- Lila on Dexter gets particularly excited about setting things on fire. In the season two finale, she discovers that a) Dexter is the Bay Harbor Butcher and b) all the evidence to incriminate him is in the cabin. To help him, she blows it to Kingdom Come. It actually does help him, in far more ways than she initially realizes.
- In the Korean Series Twinkle Twinkle Granny's secret stash of loan shark contracts, money, and object d'art are detroyed by fire at her hidden warehouse.
- An episode of The Mystery Files Of Shelby Woo revolved around that episode's culprit burning down houses to hide the fact that they were illegally harboring endangered animals inside the houses.
- Monk: in the episode "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing", Eddie Murdoch is hired by his boss Peter Breen to kill Breen's girlfriend Stefanie Preston. Murdoch strangles her in her house, positions her body on her living room couch, then lights the house on fire to make it look like she fell asleep on the couch while watching TV and drinking, then he walks away. Except he leaves behind the keys he used to get into the house on the coffee table, but by the time he realizes it, a fire engine has just sped past him on its way to the fire. So he goes to a firehouse a few blocks away to steal a firefighter's coat and helmet. Coincidentally, Monk and a firefighter named Rusty are checking Monk's smoke detectors. When Rusty walks over to confront Murdoch, Murdoch bludgeons him with the bottom of a shovel. Monk rushes over, and there is a struggle, which ends when Murdoch throws a bucket of cleaning acid in Monk's face, blinding him. Murdoch then grabs the gear he needs, returns to Stefanie's house, and sneaks past the real firefighters and emergency workers unnoticed as he retrieves the keys.
- The funny thing is that said episode was based on a Tie-In Novel, Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse. The only differences are that the victim was smothered instead of strangled, the incriminating item was a monogrammed overcoat instead of a set of keys, and the collateral victim was the firehouse's Dalmatian, not Monk and an innocent firefighter.
- Played for laughs in Arrested Development. When Michael discovers that a storage unit his father tried to keep him from finding out about has burned down, it doesn't take him long to connect it to the recently released arsonist who's been set up with a job at the banana stand (which he readily admits to).
- Attempted in Person of Interest when a top-secret mop-up mission in China is to be obliterated by a bomb strike, conveniently also wiping out the agents tasked for the cleanup. The agents involved are not happy. (although the installation is totally destroyed, so that part of it succeeded)
- Also attempted in 2010, when shady government agents arrange a suicide bomb at a ferry terminal. They succeed in killing Nathan Ingram, who was planning to meet a reporter and publicly reveal the existence of the Machine. They do not succeed in killing the actual creator of the Machine, though to be fair, he went out of his way to make sure they didn't know he existed... and the blast left him with permanent injuries.
- The Ronan Point disaster in London (see Real Life) was parodied and satirised in the Architect sketch on Monty Python. An architect demonstrates a manifestly unsafe apartment block that catches fire, collapses, and then explodes - and that's only the model. Instead of being thrown out of the room, the board committee ascertain the Architect is a fellow Freemason, and whole-heartedly endorse his design as "being good enough for the tenants".
- In the Community episode "Digital Estate Planning", this happens in a video game of all places. The study group plays an adventure game together and Annie and Shirley visit a blacksmith's shop to buy weapons. Unfortunately, the weapons are outrageously expensive and they can't afford any, so Annie tries to get something she thinks would be free. It's not, and she accidentally kills the blacksmith while trying to put it back. She and Shirley then decide to loot the shop and burn it down. (Yes, they made it possible to do this in the game.)
- Subverted in Girl Genius, when someone wants to try this but a more Genre Savvy conspirator points out just how suspicious that convenient fire would be. It can be found here and here.
- Merlot tries this as well, to destroy information about Agatha. Since one of the things he had to burn to destroy this knowledge was the people who had read the files, it is not surprising he got sent to Castle Heterodyne anyway.
- In El Goonish Shive, Abraham blows up the museum security cameras watching the statue he was encased in to coverup his exit in order to maintain the Masquerade.
- After the BP oil spill, there were several records of their hired cleaning crews burning dead birds and sea life at night so that people couldn't see the destruction.
- On August 27, 2011, 53 bodies believed to be Libyan civilians arrested by pro-Qaddafi loyalists for interrogation were found in the remains of a warehouse, which had been burnt by the pro-Qaddafi forces to keep them from rebel forces. There may have actually been 150 dead. Very grisly and probably NSFW photo here.◊
- Robert William Fisher, still on the FBI Most Wanted List, killed his family in this way: staged gas explosion after shooting/slitting the throats of his wife and children.
- The Cheshire, Connecticut home invasion murders of July 23, 2007 appear to have been the same way: two career criminals, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, broke into the house of Dr. William Petit and his family. They tied up Dr. Petit in the basement after cracking him over the head with a bat, then took his two daughters and wife hostage. Petit's wife was forced to withdraw money from her bank by the two criminals. After that, the two crooks, Hayes and Komisarjevsky, proceeded to rape Petit's wife Jennifer and younger daughter Michaela, then strangled Jennifer, and proceeded to set the house on fire with gasoline they purchased that morning. Dr. Petit managed to get out alive. The two criminals then attempted to flee after setting the fire, but were stopped and arrested about a block away.
- The collapse of the Ronan Point council tower in London in 1967 with loss of life was precipitated by a gas leak and explosion, causing the corner and side of the block to collapse like a house of cards. At the time, British councils, especially in London, were addressing slum housing and an ongoing housing shortage dating back to the Blitz by building tower block accommodation - American readers, think "housing projects" and all this implies. Although done with the noblest of motives, mass rehousing of surplus population in tower blocks soon became notorious for abuse, corruption, and greed on the part of councillors taking back-handers from corrupt builders who skimped on materials and produced shoddy dwellings. Slater-Walker, the group who built Ronan Point, used the gas explosion to divert attention from their own shoddy, cheap, and dangerous building. A properly built housing block simply should not have collapsed like that. SW were later found guilty of corporate negligience, bribery of council officials, and other charges relating to wholesale corruption.