"Fire! To destroy all you've done!"
—Fire, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
is 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.
A Sub Trope
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 his girlfriend and Mello.
- 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 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's* laboratory when 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 succeeds not only in destroying the room where the crime took place, but killing everyone who was in the room at the time by blowing them up. 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 a sniper, rather unnecessarily, seconds before the explosion happened).
- 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 occuring.
- 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 has this happen in one episode. "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing" has a murder where the victim is strangled and then her house is set on fire. Then the perpetrator forgets his keys, and acquires a firefighter's coat and helmet by force (bludgeoning and killing a firefighter with the bottom of a shovel and then blinding Monk with a bucket of cleaning acid) to get them back.
- 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 car keys, and the collateral victim was a dog, 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)
- 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.
- After the BP oil spill, there were several records of there 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 Hanssen, 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.