Sudbury·THE FOLO

Bush detective: the 'art and science' of forest fire investigation

As Jeff Antoszek walks through bush near Lively that was left blackened and crispy by a forest fire earlier this summer, he doesn't see what everyone else sees.

"It's like looking for that needle in a haystack. Sometimes you find it, sometimes you get stuck by it"

Ministry of Natural Resources fire investigator Jeff Antoszek looks for patterns in the burned bush left behind by a forest fire near Lively. (Erik White/CBC )

As Jeff Antoszek walks through bush near Lively that was left blackened and crispy by a forest fire earlier this summer, he doesn't see what everyone else sees.

After 15 years as a fire investigator and fire behaviour specialist with the Ministry of Natural Resources, it doesn't take him long to figure out where the fire started — and which path it took through the forest.

But, Antoszek said it's rare to find that "smoking gun" like a cigarette butt or shaved metal from a railway track.  

"Sometimes, you know, it's like looking for that needle in a haystack. Sometimes you find it, sometimes you get stuck by it," he said.

Here's what the fire looked like when his colleagues at the ministry were trying to put it out.

Here's Antoszek trying to figure out what caused it. He said often, there are multiple possibilities and it's difficult to pin down. He said some nights he has trouble getting to sleep remembering the details of past investigations. 

Antoszek concluded that this fire was likely caused by ATVers in the area, most likely from vegetation smoldering on their mufflers and then falling off into the dry bush.

But Antoszek said like most human caused fires, actually fingering a guilty party is very difficult. He said his goal is figure out how a fire started so that public awareness campaigns can be tailored to prevent similar fires in future summers.

CBC reporter Erik White heads into the bush with MNR investigator Jeff Antoszek to find out how he figures out what starts forest fires. 6:44