According to a NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) fact sheet, there were 16,800 reported home fires involving clothes dryers or washing machines in the United States in 2010. Associated with this were the following estimates:
Further research showed that from 2006-2010, 92 percent of the total home fires said to have started in the laundry room were caused by the clothes dryer. The leading cause, 32 percent, of home clothes dryer and washer fires was a failure to clean. The leading item that contributed to these fires, 29 percent, was dust, fiber or lint.1
I am writing this article at the request of another Chester resident who was faced with an issue that could have caused a fire in her home. She had read or heard the importance of cleaning the lint from dryer vents, so she hired someone to clean hers. Unable to find the outside exhaust for the dryer vent, the person that she hired traced the dryer vent, finding that a contractor who had resided the home had sided over the dryer vent. The result of cleaning was a grocery bag full of lint. Though your dryer vent may not have been sided over, there is still a need to clean your dryer vents and filter screens.
There are other causes attributed to dryer fires, such as overheated motors and drums, as well as overloading your dryer. A dryer that runs longer than normal stands the potential of overheating. Many people put clothes in their dryers, turn it on and go about other activities, never thinking that a problem would occur. The only indication that a problem existed was the fact that their smoke alarm activated.
Since smoke alarms were the reason that many even knew that they had a problem, I will end this article with this reminder. By the time that you read this, we will have turned our clocks back;. with that change, the fire service has always reminded people to change the batteries in their smoke alarms. With lengthened battery life, the recommendation is that you at least test your smoke alarm monthly. If you have a regular battery in your smoke alarm, then you should change it. Many of you may have electric smoke alarms with a battery back up that are tied together and all activate when one goes off. These still need to be tested monthly, and batteries should be replaced. Remember, properly located and operating smoke alarms are the best defense in the event of a home fire.
1 Source: Home Fires Involving Clothes Dryers or Washing Machines, John R. Hall, Jr., September 2012
NFPA, 1 Batterymarch Park, Quincy, MA 02169, www.nfpa.org
Fire Analysis & Research Division, firstname.lastname@example.org