Back in June 2011 while en route to our summer camp at Heckla Island one Friday evening my wife and I came across a residential fire on Highway #8 north of Gimli Manitoba. As we were driving along the highway we saw smoke drifting across the highway and just by the way the smoke was blowing and the smell I could tell it was not a grass or forest fire but appeared to be a structural type fire. As we got close to the location of the smoke we saw that it was in fact a residential fire. The fire department wasn’t even on scene yet.
A few vehicles had stopped along the highway to watch. The fire was well involved at this point with flames shooting 30-40 feet in the air and appeared to be concentrated to the backside of the home. At the time my wife asked if I wanted to stop and take some pictures but wanting to be a lookie-loo when somebody was obviously having a very bad day, I told her I’ve seen lots of fires and just wanted to get to the lake so let’s keep on driving.
The following morning (Saturday) I was enjoying breakfast at my camp when I received a call from a claims manager asking if I was in the area and if I would be interested in taking on a fire claim in the area. I immediately asked her if it occurred the evening before along Highway #8 which she confirmed was in fact the case. I explained to her that I saw the house burn on my way to the lake and apologized for not taking my wife’s suggestion to stop to get some pictures. At any rate, I took the claim information, contacted their Insured and headed over to the fire scene right away. Upon arrival at the scene the house was obviously a constructive total loss with the back of the house significantly damaged and much of the roof destroyed. I concluded my initial meeting with the Insured the following Monday and upon returning to work initiated the investigation.
Our first phone call was to the office of the fire commissioner at which time we discussed a potential cause. Upon inspection the majority of the fire appeared to be around the area of the homes main service panel which we anticipated would have been the point of origin. The investigator advised she was not ruling out the fact that this could have been a set fire and they believed the point of origin may have been underneath a deck that was built on the back of the house. They indicated that the Insured was not necessarily a suspect but that there had been several arsons in the area recently. The RCMP were also involved and conducted interviews of the Insured and his common-law spouse. After ruling out the Insured the fire commissioner attended again and conducted further investigation, ultimately reporting that they could not pinpoint a cause and were ruling the fire as undetermined but suspicious.
We had called in investigators from Origin & Cause to get their opinion on a possible cause for the fire.
The home was in a rural location and set far back from the highway. The hydro service line came from the highway to a pole with a transformer on the property then to the house. While conducting my survey of the property I looked up at the pole and transformer and noted there appeared to be something on the top of the transformer. To me it looked like an animal, possibly a cat. Upon making this discovery I called the investigator from Origin & Cause and asked him specifically to look at the transformer mounted on the pole when he was attending the scene to conduct his investigation.
When Origin & Cause were on scene they engaged the services of Manitoba Hydro to provide a lift truck to get a close examination of the transformer at which point they discovered the very incinerated remains of a cat. The cat was removed and there was evidence of arcing on the top of the transformers. Suspecting that the cat had electrocuted himself on the top of the transformer the investigator took a closer look at the service panel and ultimately determined that the cat had short circuited himself across the two terminals of the transformer which energized the neutral line to the service panel. The grass then ignited the underside of the deck which was what caught the eye of the investigator from the office of the fire commissioners attention.
It was suspected that the cat was most likely chased up the pole by another animal and the transformer was its first and final resting place and that’s how a feral cat burned down a house.