Being a recently retired Battalion Chief of a suburban Chicago Fire Department and an owner of a professional dryer vent cleaning service, a recent news article caught my attention. It described a house fire caused by a dryer in San Diego and the headline was, “Vacationers displaced after early-morning fire torches beach home”.
Two families from Utah — a total of seven adults and nine children — had been staying in the two-unit home and were displaced as a result of the fire, according to the Fire Department.
Vacations are a time when families get together and have a carefree time, especially in Southern California. Spending days at the beach and enjoying the ocean air while shopping and eating oceanside are what dreams are made of. But these 2 families had a nightmare happen that was all too real. They were awoken by smoke detectors set off by a dryer fire. According to the article, the only mentioned injury was a 60 year old woman was treated for smoke inhalation. Thankfully none of the kids were injured.
The family was displaced from their rental home and luckily another rental unit was found and the families were able to resume their vacation.
The owner of the home however now has to deal with replacement of the washer and dryer (both were damaged beyond repair), an adjacent bathroom was damaged, and smoke and water removal. Knowing how (not) quickly insurance repair works, this owner is going to be with rental income for many months to follow. The loss of rental income could really hurt the owners ability to stay above water.
Why did this happen and could it have been prevented? Absolutely! A reputable dryer vent service can greatly reduce the threat of one of the most preventable fires in your home. The service company should not only clean the dryer vent, but also clean behind, underneath, and inside the dryer.
Over time, small amounts of lint from each load you dry, will not make it to the outside for many reasons. Some of those reasons are: too long of a vent run, too many elbows in the vent run, undersized venting, crushed or disconnected venting, birds nests in vent, or even other small mammals making their way into a vent. Once the vent gets blocked with lint, your dryer exhaust will have nowhere to go and small openings inside the dryer will allow the interior motor compartment to get coated with a fine layer of lint with every load. This lint will build up to the point where it can be ignited by the operation of the dryer. Many times it will flash across the lint and not get outside the dryer cabinet. I actually cleaned a dryer once and showed the owner that she had 5 separate fire inside her dryer by counting the layers of burnt lint like the rings of a tree!
That small fire inside the dryer can get out by means of all the opening in the back of your dryer meant to allow make-up air into the machine and to dissipate heat. If there are items of clothing, such as the ever missing unpaired sock, or towels that fell behind the dryer, this will become tinder for that small fire. Small fires turn into big fires if allowed to progress unchecked.
I always check smoke detector operation in my own home and in vacation rentals homes/condos. I also check dryer operation in rental units when I stay in them by this simple test. I go to the outside vent cap and feel the exhaust. It should feel like a fan blowing at high speed. If your unsure of how much air should be coming out, check the flaps on the cap. They should be straight out when the dryer is in operation.
Have fun and enjoy your vacation!