February 5, 2018 by Jason Contant
Fire claims investigations can certainly highlight life’s ironies.
Consider the case of the firefighters who were called out to a blaze one day at about 3 p.m., only to return to the station and find a fire blazing in their firehall kitchen.
“When we were called in, there was no clear indication of the cause of the fire, other than the fact that it happened in the kitchen of the firehall,” said Mazen Habash, president of forensic engineering and fire investigation firm Origin and Cause. “There was quite extensive fire damage to the kitchen area, and there was smoke damage throughout the firehall itself. Other than being a little embarrassed, the firefighters wanted to know what happened and how the fire was caused.”
The resultant investigation ruled out a variety of kitchen appliances, including a microwave, blender, coffee maker, kettle, fridge and dishwasher, Habash said during a seminar titled Rise of the Machines: Appliance Fires and Flood Claims at the Ontario Insurance Adjusters Association’s (OIAA) 2018 Claims Conference last week.
Looking at burn patterns, electrical wiring and the actual appliances throughout the kitchen, “we came to the conclusion that the fire was caused by a toaster,” Habash said. “It had, in fact, been used just moments before the fire department was called out to the fire scene elsewhere before returning. The fire started at the toaster and progressed up.”
Generally speaking, toasters are a heating product and food products can ignite, depending on what is being toasted, Habash said. For example, items like Pop-Tarts (because of the sugary material inside) or waffles with sugar on them can ignite in a toaster. In the firehall case, there was also a recall on the on/off switch for the appliance. “Believe it or not, carrots will ignite if you microwave them for too long,” Habash added.
In a separate investigation, there were two fires at the home of one of Origin and Cause’s own employees. In the first instance, somebody at the employee’s household put a bag of popcorn in the microwave for 20 minutes instead of two minutes. “In the first incident, they created a lot of smoke damage in the house, and they had to put in a claim to replace the microwave oven,” Habash said. “Three weeks or four weeks after the cleanup, the individual did the same thing.”