Built-up lint in dryers poses danger –
Firefighter says related blazes are preventable
Story by: Rachel Myers
It was seven years ago Bonita Springs firefighter Keith Ott left the scene of a blaze at a laundry and dry cleaning business shaking his head.
No one was hurt, but the owner’s livelihood was gone. Investigators determined the cause had been excessive lint build-up.
“On the way back from the call, I started thinking, ‘Why did this happen?'” he said. “I came to the conclusion that it didn’t have to happen.”
After some research, he and his wife, founded Clear Choice Lint Removal, a business that has grown to serve about 2,000 customers in Lee County annually. Still a full-time firefighter, Ott said educating the public on the issue remains a challenge.
According to a 2007 study by the Topical Fire Research Series, dryer fires account for 15,600 structure fires each year nationwide. In Florida, the number of dryer fires rose from 1 percent of all fires in 2005 to 4 percent in 2006, according to the state fire marshal. Statistics aren’t available for Lee County, but just last month, Dec. 30, a dryer fire forced the evacuation of guests from the Lani Kai hotel on Fort Myers Beach. No one was hurt, but investigators determined a dryer had overheated – too much lint.
Failure to clean, the TFRS asserts, accounts for 70 percent of all dryer fires.
Most people know they’re supposed to scrape out the fuzzy stuff from the trap inside the dryer. But Ott said that only accounts for 60 percent of the lint produced as clothing tumbles around. The rest is shot through a dryer vent pipe.
Accumulated lint clogs the dryer vent pipe, preventing heated air from escaping, which raises the dryer temperature. Then the lint acts as kindling.
Craig Aberbach, division chief with the Cape Coral Fire Department, said lint is an extremely flammable substance.”In our CERT class, we teach a subject on how dangerous it is by holding up a piece of lint and putting a match to it,” he said. “It’s gone in an instant. So it’s very important that dryer vents be kept as clean as possible.
“Fires that originate in the laundry area aren’t nearly as common as those that start in the kitchen or from careless smoking. But they do happen. “And there’s a potential that they can get big,” Aberbach said. “Usually, they’ll be contained because people will be home doing laundry, and they’ll smell the smoke and call the Fire Department. The problem is when people throw the clothes in the dryer and then leave. People should never leave the home while drying.”
A typical load of laundry should take 40 minutes to dry, Ott said. If it takes any longer than that, the problem could be lint build-up. If people set their dryers to automatic and walk away, they may not realize how long it’s taking the clothes to dry.
Cape resident Barbie Graff said she and her husband, Vernon, do about four loads of laundry a week for the two of them, and clean the vents behind the dryer about once a year. “We always knew it was a fire hazard, but then our friend’s house in Pennsylvania burned down about three or four years ago because of a dryer fire,” she said. “So we’re especially careful about it now.”
Dianne Wilcox, also of Cape Coral, said she hires an outside company to clean the vents for her about every six months.”I’m always worried about the possibility of a fire,” she said. “And I never leave or go to sleep when I’m doing laundry.”
Lint build-up is an issue particularly in Florida and other sunny states, Ott said, because most laundry areas are constructed in the middle of a residence, so there’s no window space wasted. So vent pipes are longer, more winding and harder to clean than those in most in Northern states.
“Of course, as a business owner, I want to drum up business,” Ott said. “But more than that, as a firefighter, I just want people to know about this issue. We put our lives on the line to put out fires, and I don’t want to see any more of these because they’re 100 percent preventable.”Copyright (c) The News-Press. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.