The Investigators: Dryer Fires - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

The Investigators: Dryer Fires

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MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV) - If that load of towels is still wet after tumbling for an hour in your dryer, you have an issue.

Maybe two issues.

Either your dryer is malfunctioning, or you have a wad of lint packed so tightly in your dryer vent tube, it could be a fuse.

And your house is the firecracker.

Memorial Day weekend, Sherry Smoot's house at 265 E. Fairway Avenue in South Memphis exploded, according to witnesses.

"It was a big blaze coming from the back, then it exploded again," said Hope Shaw, a neighbor who witnessed the fire.

Smoot could not be reached for comment, but everyone living in her house got out safely thanks to a well-maintained smoke detector, according to the fire investigator's report.

But the report also revealed the fire's cause:  a faulty dryer, with the possibility of a poorly maintained dryer vent.

The National Fire Prevention Association (www.nfpa.org) said in 2006, there were an estimated 17,700 fires involving clothes dryers in the U.S.

The blazes killed 15 people, injured 360 and caused $194 million in property damage.

According to the NFPA, the leading contributor to 29 percent of the fires was the failure to clean the dryer vents.

We know to change the lint traps inside our dryers after every load, but lint also builds up inside the dryer duct (that Slinky-looking thing, connecting the dryer to the vent) and inside the vent tube leading to the exhaust on the side of the house.

Carl Greenway, owner of DUCTZ of Shelby and Williamson Counties (http://www.ductz.com/locations/tennessee/ductz-of-shelby-county.aspx, 901-388-1656) said homeowners should locate the dryer exhaust outside their homes and place their hands under the cover. There should be either an open hole -- the end of the vent -- or a flap that stays up when there's a clear path for the dryer's hot air to pass.

"If that flap is down, and they put their hand there and cannot feel any air, it's a good reason to call me," said Greenway.

He said homeowners should also consider installing "critter cages" on their dryer exhausts to keep animals from crawling into the vents.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommended these tips for preventing dryer fires:

* CLEAN THE LINT SCREEN/FILTER BEFORE OR AFTER DRYING EACH LOAD OF CLOTHES.

* CLEAN THE DRYER VENT AND EXHAUST DUCT PERIODICALLY.

* CLEAN BEHIND THE DRYER, WHERE LINT CAN BUILD UP.

* REPLACE THE PLASTIC OR FOIL, ACCORDION-TYPE DUCT WITH A RIGID OR CORRUGATED SEMI-RIGID METAL DUCT. Most manufacturers specify the use of a rigid or corrugated semi-rigid metal duct, which provides maximum air-flow. The plastic or foil duct is more susceptible to kinking or crushing.

* TAKE SPECIAL CARE WHEN DRYING CLOTHES THAT HAVE BEEN SOILED WITH VOLATILE CHEMICALS. Wash those clothes more than once, and preferably, hang them to dry.

The NFPA also recommended:

* When moving into a new home, it is vital that new homeowners should ask the age of the dryer vent, its size and where it exits the home.

* Homeowners should also inquire about when the dryer vents and air ducts were last cleaned and request that the vent is cleaned before moving.

* For those living in condos, where dryer vents can make 180-degree turns, it is easier and more cost effective to simply replace the flex duct rather than clean it.

* Have dryer vents inspected and cleaned annually. Regular dryer vent cleaning promotes dryer safety and efficiency. Homes with pets and dryers that are used several times a week may require special attention. 

Copyright 2011 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.

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