From wildlife watching to unexpected evidence
Whenever someone first meets one of our engineers, they are inevitably asked, “what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen?” and, while we obviously won’t share identifying details, every engineer has a story! In part three of our series, we chatted with four of our fire cause and origin investigators, Daniel Kabaroff, P.Eng., CFEI, and Geoff Wowk, P.Eng., CFEI, CVFI, from Edmonton, Charles LeBlanc, CFEI, CVFI, CFIS, CFSA, from Moncton and Donovan Ryan, CFEI, CCFI-C, from our Ottawa office, to ask them about the memorable files they’ve encountered throughout the years:
Gone in 60 seconds
While investigating a possible arson, one of our investigators made an interesting discovery: high end car parts. A fire with multiple points of origin was being examined, and when our engineer went to check the attached garage, he found a variety of parts from some very high-end vehicles. The suspect had apparently been dismantling the vehicles and then putting the frame out on the street to be found. Once a vehicle has been reported as stolen and written off, it is sent to a salvage yard to be resold for scrap or as parts. The suspect would then purchase the frame, reassemble the vehicle, and sell it overseas! In this case, the arson was only part of the story we helped to unravel.
More than meets the eye
Sometimes, what isn’t there is just as important as what is. While out on a suspected arson, our investigator was looking around the home and noticed something seemed to be missing. Much of the home had burned, but the living room area with a bookcase was not badly damaged. There were personal effects from the homeowners in the rest of the bookcase, but one particular shelf was empty. That struck our investigator as a bit odd, so as he continued to look around, he noticed some other empty spaces around the house. Later on, while ensuring he photographed the entire property, he noted an oddly placed tarp, and went to check underneath it… And that’s where he found a hole that had been dug and filled with things like photo albums and jewelry. Needless to say, that solidified his opinion that the cause of the fire was arson.
Often, witness statements provide critical information about fires including where they started, who was around, and plenty of other useful tidbits. But sometimes, they create more questions than answers. In this case, our investigator was called to a fire scene at the back of a home; they talked to several witnesses, and everyone said that, while the residents were smokers, they only do it at the front of the house never the back. As the investigation went on, it seemed more and more likely that smoking materials were the cause of the fire, but that theory was directly contradicted by witnesses… until the investigator noticed some melted cameras. When the footage was reviewed, it showed someone butting out a cigarette in a planter on the back deck, and then taking the cigarette to the front to dispose of. The hot ashes from putting the cigarette out smoldered for 3 hours before finally igniting. The moral of this story? Never use a planter to put out a cigarette… And when the evidence doesn’t match the witness statements, it’s important to keep digging!
Somebody’s watching me
On a remote fire scene, a few hours out of the nearest major city, one of our investigators was doing a fire scene examination. The circumstances were somewhat suspicious, and he kept getting the tingling sensation at the back of his neck telling him someone (or something!) was watching him. As he was photographing the area, he looked over and saw a pair of eyes in the trees… A coyote was peering at him from the underbrush about 10 feet away. Even after he was able to scare the coyote back a bit, it continued to watch and circle the area. He must have looked like a very tasty morsel! Our engineer finished the inspection, packed up and left, all the while watching for movement around the perimeter.
Whether it’s deciphering the evidence out of the ashes or finding ways to (safely) document a loss, our investigators and engineers have come across some interesting circumstances! In every fire loss there are interesting things to uncover, and the cause of the loss is not always what it appears.