Dryer fire! It happened to DeNiro, it could happen to you

By , Posted on 04 January 2013

Now that the New Year is here, we should talk about a timely issue, and I don't mean budget deficits. January has the distinction of being the top-ranked month for dryer fires, according to the report, "Clothes Dryer Fires in Residential Buildings (2008-2010)," by the U.S. Fire Administration's National Fire Data Center.

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According to the report:

  • Nearly 3,000 clothes dryer fires in residential buildings are reported to U.S. fire departments each year and cause an estimated 5 deaths, 100 injuries and $35 million in property loss.
  • Dryer fires in residential buildings happen the most in the fall and winter months, peaking in January at 11 percent.
  • Failure to clean (34 percent) was the leading factor contributing to the ignition of clothes dryer fires in residential buildings.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has more alarming stats --  estimating that 15,500 fires associated with clothes dryers occur annually. These fires account for an average of 10 deaths and 310 injuries and more than $84.4 million in property damage a year, according to the CPSC.

While dryer fires may seem like a pedestrian dilemma for mere mortals and are more common in winter, the blazes do not discriminate against the rich and famous, nor do they only happen in cold months. Lint buildup in the clothes dryer caused a fire at Robert DeNiro's apartment at 88 Central Park West  in June of 2011, causing significant damage.

After a friend told me she had a friend whose house burned to the ground from a dryer fire I became a lint filter cleaner of OCD proportions. There's a certain amount of instant gratification to it, and it's so much easier to do than, say, exercise or scrub the toilet.

No homeowner wants to be filing a claim for any type of fire, but dryer fires can be easily prevented. To help keep that lint trap's screen fabric-free, companies such as Range Kleen sell brushes designed to fit into the slim slots so you can keep them tidy.  And, while many dryer blazes are caused by lint buildup, some are caused by improper ventilation. ConsumerReports.org has a list of seven dryer safety measures you can check out.

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Des Toups

Des Toups

Managing editor

Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's.

Email: dtoups@quinstreet.com

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