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A Fire Hazard is Growing in Your Home

Your life can completely change in 15 minutes.

On Oct. 30 while I was drying a few couch slipcovers, I noticed a bad smell coming from the dryer. Thinking that it was just the old dryer overheating from exertion, I took the covers out, hung them up outside to dry and went upstairs for a few minutes. 

When I returned downstairs, the house was a bit smoky, so I went to check on the dryer. When I opened it, smoke came out. Still thinking that it was just overheating, I opened our back door. Within minutes, however, the smoke was much thicker. Again I checked the dryer. This time I saw a red glow in the bottom and decided to call 911. The operator told me to get out of the house.

Within 10 minutes the fire department arrived.

I saw the firemen take the large firehose into my house and I thought, “Wow, that’s going to be messy.” Yet I still thought all I was going to be facing was a burnt out dryer and a smoky smell.

The destruction that was caused within 15 minutes was sobering.

Our laundry room is completely gone. The kitchen ceiling and cabinets burned to a crisp. Even the top of the refrigerator is warped from the heat. Upstairs our walls are soot covered and the beige carpet is now black. The renovation company says they will have to completely gut the house and it will take four to six months to put it back together.

My neighbor who works for an insurance company said that dryer fires are the number one cause of house fires. He’s right. According to statistics from the U.S. Fire Administration, an estimated 2,900 home dryer fires occur each year. They cause, on average, five deaths, 100 injuries and $35 million in property losses. More than 30 percent of the fires are due to failure to clean the dryer.

While I am very diligent about cleaning out the lint trap between each load of laundry, I have no idea how many years it had been since the dryer had been fully cleaned. Truthfully, we’re from Tennessee and the dryer in every house I’ve previously lived in vented directly to the outside. It never occurred to me that we would need to have our dryer vent professionally cleaned.

Yet many of the houses in Westchase and surrounding neighborhoods have vents like ours. Hot air from the dryer is routed up through the wall of the laundry room to just below our outside roofline (or to a curved vent on the roof). While the fire inspector who investigated the fire could not tell me the exact cause because of confidentiality, he said there was a lot of lint in the vent.

There have been many times I have started drying a load of laundry and then run up to the YMCA or to Publix. I feel lucky that I was at home that day; otherwise, my neighbor in a connecting unit might also be out of a home. And there probably would not have been anything to salvage from ours.

My husband and I have joked that we will be the cautionary tale of West Park Village. We’re willing, however, to be it for the whole area –  especially if it can save a family from the destruction we’ve been through.

In short, never leave a clothes dryer operating when you leave your home, especially if you have pets.

What are some signs that you may have dangerous lint buildup in your dryer?

• Clothes take longer to dry or don’t dry fully.
• Clothes are hotter than normal at the end of the cycle.
• The outside of dryer gets hot.
• The outside exhaust vent flapper does not open very much.
• The laundry room is more humid than usual.
• Your laundry room has a burning smell.

If your dryer is showing any of these signs, deep clean your vent (there are kits for sale at Lowe’s, Home Depot or on Amazon) or call a company to do it for you.

Your home and your life may depend upon it.

By Marcy Sanford

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