"Fire! To destroy all you've done!"The act of blowing up or burning down the evidence implicating you in some crime. Very popular among evil corporations and governments 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. A Sub-Trope of Destroy the Evidence and Revealing Cover-Up. Also compare its sister tropes Gas Leak Cover-Up and Kill It with Fire.
— Fire, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
open/close all folders
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 Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, 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 Mother Keeper in the final part of Hunter Graham sets Silas' house on fire after murdering everyon in there.
- 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.
- At the end of Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, the government nukes the entire town to cover it up.
- In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the CIA attempt this, firing drones at the compound of an African warlord they've secretly been providing with weapons and ammo, despite at least one civilian - Lois Lane - inside the compound. This is prevented by Clark, who flies in and blows up the drones before the can reach their target. Also Subverted slightly earlier, as after Knyazev and Lex's other goons shoot the rebels they are working with, they burn the bodies with flamethrowers, making it appear to be this trope - but it's really a Frame-Up to make the world think that Superman, who's arriving to save Lois from the rebel warlord, killed the rebels with his heat vision.
- 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 Hunt for Red October, Captain Ramios is trying to cover up disobeying his orders. The evidence is the orders in question.
- In Outbreak, the military threatens to bomb the town in order to contain the virus.
- 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.
- In The 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.
- Sherlock Holmes (2009). Sherlock and Watson are looking through the dwarf'snote laboratory when two of Blackwood's henchmen saunter in carrying arson equipment. Holmes is smart enough to know what they've come to do. Then they call for Dredger and things turn into a fight.
- Taken Up to 11 in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, 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.
- WarCraft: Medivh burns down all of Khadgar's research on the Portal and frames it as "it's dangerous for you to investigate this!", while in fact he tries to cover up his involvement in bringing the orcs to Azeroth. He misses the page Khadgar had hidden in his cloak, though, implicating himself.
- The World Is Not Enough: Elektra King steals a nuclear warhead. She then plans to detonate a bomb so the authorities will think she has used all of the plutonium and stop looking for it. However, the explosion will cover-up the fact that she actually removed half the plutonium to use in her real scheme.
- 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 bludgeoning his target to death, then burning down the entire building where they lived, the police would be faced with a Needle in a Stack of Needles mystery, not a single homicide.
- Taken Up to 11 in The Golden Rendezvous by Alistair MacLean. The villains steal the latest mini-nuke from the United States, and plan to use it to destroy all evidence and witnesses after their robbery of a gold shipment. The protagonist points out that using explosives isn't guaranteed to work, as people have survived the explosion of naval magazines packed with TNT during wartime. Likewise shooting everyone would take hours and waste valuable time. Of course, as the mini-nuke is the latest technology, why didn't the criminals just sell it?
- The Night's Dawn Trilogy. Quinn Dexter and his devotees do something nasty to a family, then shoot each though the eye with a beam weapon and burn down the house. When the other colonists discover what a bastard Quinn is, they wonder what was done to the family that they had to burn the bodies afterwards?
- Averted in Flyaway by Desmond Bagley. Our hero is giving The Summation to the Big Bad, who at one point throws a piece of evidence in the fire. The hero points out that it's a photocopy. "Plenty more where that came from."
- Parker: George Uhl does this in The Sour Lemon Score after he murders his two co-conspirators: burning down the farmhouse where the murders took place. He knocks the teeth out of the corpses before setting the fire to make identification of the bodies almost impossible.
- Young Sherlock Holmes: In Death Cloud, Clem burns down the warehouse (at the Baron's orders) to ensure they have not accidentally left any evidence behind. Unfortunately, Sherlock is hiding in the warehouse at the time.
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.)
- 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).
- 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.)
- CSI: In "Grissom's Divine Comedy", a gang torches their leader's apartment to destroy an evidence before the CSIs can search it.
- The fire that destroyed Stella's apartment on CSI: New York was thought to be this trope when a corpse was discovered in a neighboring apartment. Subverted when the "murder victim" was found to have died of an injured spleen from an unrelated accident two days earlier, making its presence at the time of the fire a coincidence.
- 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.
- Doctor Who: In "Deep Breath", what appears to be a rash of cases of spontaneous combustion is actually this. The killer has been harvesting organs from the victims, and burning the bodies to conceal that anything was taken.
- Father Brown: This is what the killer appears to have been attempting in "The Brewer's Daughter". In reality, it was the reverse. The killer set the fire in such a way as to make it obvious it was arson as part of an elaborate frame-up.
- After murdering Detective Clemons in Jessica Jones, Will Simpson attempts to cover it up by burning Clemons' body and the entire crime scene. He winds up giving himself away a few episodes later, however, because he knows things that he shouldn't and in the process of burning the scene he gets some burn injuries which he didn't even notice thanks to the combination Super Serum/Psycho Serum he was taking.
- 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.
- Motive: Done by the killer in "Abandoned". After the Victim of the Week suffers Death by Falling Over in the kitchen of a diner, the killer turns on all the gas and then uses a Reusable Lighter Toss to ignite it. What she does not realize is that her victim is still alive as the fireball goes off.
- The Ronan Point disaster in London was parodied and satirised in the Architect sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus. 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".
- Murder, She Wrote: In "Night of the Coyote", the killer burns down a museum to cover their theft of a specific item.
- Murdoch Mysteries: In "In the Altogether", the killer sets off a bomb to make it look like MacTavish died in an explosion caused by a gas leak.
- 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.
- 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).
- New Tricks: In "In Vino Veritas", UCOS investigate the murder of a pub landlord who died in a fire at his pub. The landlord's dire financial situation led the police at the time to mark the fire down as suspected arson and his death as suicide. However, the landlord was murdered and the fire was started by his brother (who was not the murderer) to cover up evidence of other crimes that would have come time light if there was an investigation.
- 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.
- 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.
- Team Machine discover a coded message from privacy terrorist group Vigilance written on the wall of an apparently empty lockup in infrared paint. There's also a CCTV camera, a remotely activated trigger for the roller door and the sprinkler system has been converted to spray everything and everyone with gasoline. An electric lighter starts sparking away, but fortunately Reese turns up to rescue them before the whole place blows up.
- 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.
- Vera: In "The Sea Glass", one suspect torches the boat that was used to dispose of the Body of the Week. They do not do a very job and Vera and her crew find traces of blood on the prow.
- 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.
- In The Big Damn Movie (immediately following the above) an office building is bombed to cover up the bodies of some people who died because of The Conspiracy. Notable in that while Agents were tipped off to the bomb, they were given the wrong building. Mulder for whatever reason decides to search the target building just because. He and Scully manage to evacuate the entire building before the bomb blows and the "victims" tips them off that something was wrong. They had multiple confirmations that all floors were evacuated.
- Dead Rising: Near the end, The Government sending in Special Forces to take out everything in the city, including you. A similar operation in the past targeted the Big Bad's village.
- F.E.A.R. 2: Armacham Corporation pulls off one of these to hide their culpability in Alma's release.
- The US Government in Half-Life's response to the Black Mesa Incident: Nuke 'em. This probably wasn't their first choice, but while the scientists (save one Dr. Freeman) were easy to silence, the aliens the accident conjured up weren't. It's also implied that it's a preemptive coverup of turning Black Mesa into a military staging ground for the Xen counter-invasion force.
- Heavy Rain: Scott Shelby burns a barrel full of evidence implicating him as the Origami Killer.
- In the famous scene of Modern Warfare 2 Shepherd orders his men to do this with the body of Ghost and Roach (the Task Force 141 Player Character), who is still somewhat conscious enough to see Shepherd throw his burning cigar into the gasoline soaked ditch. The last thing Roach sees is Shepard walking away while he burns to death.
- In Max Payne, when the title character is investigating the Cold Steel mill, he hears that a facility called the "Deep Six" has been compromised, and a call for commencement of "Operation Dead Eyes."
The walkie-talkie military lingo could mean only one thing... they were getting ready to destroy the evidence and vanish into the night.
- When Max actually reaches the bunker and finds out exactly what Horne and her people have been mixed up in (as well as the truth about his family's murder), he eventually has to escape the facility before it blows sky high.
- In Psychonauts, "The Milkman" whom Thornley Towers security guard Boyd Cooper keeps worrying about is actually an alternate persona planted in his mind by Coach Oleander, with orders to burn down the asylum once Oleander and Loboto are done with their evil scheme.
- In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All, in case 2, the killer tries to burn their clothes they wore during the crime.
- In the first case of Dual Destinies, the killer explicitly states that he loves explosions for how they destroy evidence. He murdered someone using a bomb as a blunt object and then detonated it.
- However, a later case reveals that the bomb was actually detonated by an international spy to destroy evidence with his DNA on it. It's still this trope either way.
- In Alice: Madness Returns, it's revealed that the fire that killed Alice's family was started by Alice's psychiatrist, Dr. Bumby, in order to conceal his rape and murder of Alice's older sister Lizzy.
- In Broken Helix, the marines' true objective is to kill every living thing in Area 51, be they human or alien, including Burton, who knows too much.
- Uplink actually allows the player to do this by giving them the option to rig their computer with explosives. If the FBI is knocking on the Uplink Corporation's door and they're about to shut down your account and seize your computer, you can blow the whole thing up destroy all the incriminating evidence, and provided you squirreled away enough money you can just buy a new computer without losing your account and all of your progress.
- In Dangan Ronpa the killer behind the game's first murder attempts to destroy evidence in the trash incinerator despite the room it's in being barred off during the time period the murder took place. Fortunately for him he's the Ultimate Baseball Star and could hurl the evidence across the room and right into the incinerator and hit the button to turn it on. Unfortunately for him, he didn't manage to burn the whole thing and left just enough for everyone to figure out what he was doing.
- In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the prologue mission ends with the Big Bad, Colonel Volgin, stealing a Doomsday Device from a Soviet research base, then destroying the base with an American nuclear warhead. In an interesting take on the trope, this turns out to be less for covering up his involvement and more for framing the United States — by making it seem like the U.S. is supporting his military coup, the Soviet government becomes less likely to believe America when they offer to help.
- Subverted in Girl Genius, when someone wants to try this but a cleverer 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.
- The Dragon in Schwarz Kreuz. Twice.
- After the BP Deepwater Horizon 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.
- It may be beneficial to note here that when it comes to human bodies, this trope is often averted in real life: house fires generally can't reach the temperatures that would be necessary to completely consume a human body, and any competent forensic pathologist would be able to tell whether a person died before or during a fire just by checking whether there's any soot or burns in the airway and lungs.