Dryer safety leaps to forefront after recent firesFires that apparently started in the laundry areas of two Mitchell homes have brought dryer safety to the forefront of public awareness, said a Mitchell fire official.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Fires that apparently started in the laundry areas of two Mitchell homes have brought dryer safety to the forefront of public awareness, said a Mitchell fire official.
Mitchell Assistant Fire Chief Paul Morris said Tuesday that the official cause of the fire that took the life of 3-year-old Jaxon Sehnert and hospitalized his brother is undetermined, but the blaze started in the laundry room of the Sehnert home.
A Tuesday laundry fire that severely damaged a rental home at 617 S. Langdon St. in Mitchell also remains under investigation. There was, however, no doubt in tenant Lisa Mason’s mind that the fire began in her clothes dryer.
Whether the fires were caused by lint buildup, a faulty appliance or an electrical problem just isn’t known yet, Morris said.
“We do know that dryer lint is pretty flammable stuff,” said Morris, who takes a baggie of lint along to help start campfires when he goes camping.
The lint consists of cotton and polyester fabric fibers that fly off clothing during drying. Lint’s large surface area makes it ignite very easily.
Federal Emergency Management Agency statistics show that nationally, between 2002 and 2004, clothes dryer fires accounted for about 12,700 structure fires, 15 deaths and 300 injuries a year, and that “failure to clean” was a leading contributor to clothes dryer fires.
Local appliance dealers tell their customers to clean dryers before every use and regularly clean dryer ducts. Plugged ducts can make dryers run hot and greatly increase the chance of fires.
Spencer Gross, of Thune’s True Value Hardware & Appliance in Mitchell, said he’s seen few dryer fires — a fact he attributes to modern appliance design.
“Dryers are much safer today than they were 40 years ago,” he said. “Today everything’s enclosed. In older machines, lint blew all over.”
Statistically speaking, there are more fatalities from lightning strikes annually than from clothes dryer fires, said Dan Rew, of Rew’s TV and Appliance in Mitchell.
“To have two apparent dryer fires this close together is very rare in this area,” Rew said.
He said it’s not uncommon, though, to see old dryers with up to 2 inches of lint buildup, which is not a good thing.
Rew said it usually takes a direct flame or heat element to get lint to burn, but when it does burn, it can burn quickly. Small lint flare-ups may not be a problem, but they could be if there’s sufficient lint buildup to feed flames, Rew said.
Both dealers stress the necessity of regular appliance maintenance. Rew also recommends using appliances only when people are home.
Correct installation is a must. Rew said he has seen situations where contractors have vented clothes dryers into attic spaces, resulting in an area with several inches of highly flammable lint on top of attic insulation, which is dangerous.
“Once or twice a year, pull your dryer away from the wall and clean around it, and you should yearly inspect and clean your dryer ducts,” Rew said.
Rew said his, as well as other area stores, have special brushes and cleaning systems for sale.
He also recommends checking the type of ductwork the dryer uses to make sure it’s not crushed and that it’s the correct type of duct.
Rew said it’s not uncommon to find dented and damaged ductwork that greatly restricts the exhaust of hot air, which contributes to dryer overheating as well as high energy costs.
Flexible white vinyl vent pipe, typically used as ductwork for bathroom fans, should not be used on dryers, because it can melt in high heat situations.
Smooth metal ductwork, with as few bends as possible, is preferred. Flexible metal ducts can be used for short runs, but should be used sparingly, because their corrugated interiors collect lint more easily, Rew said.
“We often find situations where dryers are ducted beyond manufacturers’ specifications for that machine,” Rew said. “When that happens, lint can build up and cause dryers to overheat.
“If a dryer can’t get rid of heat, you basically have an oven.”
Very hot clothing or clothes that seemingly take forever to dry are typically signals that a dryer needs service or ductwork needs cleaning, Rew said.