10 Investigates: Dryer Fires Pose A Hidden Danger To Multi-Story Buildings


UPDATED: Monday May 19, 2014 7:44 PM

Clothes dryers are one of the leading causes of apartment fires.  Many times lint builds up, causing the dryer to overheat.

But 10 Investigates discovered nobody is responsible for keeping apartment dryer vents clean and almost all of them could be prevented if the state would require dryer vents to be cleaned.

Mifflin Township Fire Inspector Randall Hormann says dryer fires are a serious issue, especially in multi-family and multi-story buildings.  “Small fires can grow to be large fires in just a matter of minutes,” he says.

Lint is a highly-flammable material.   It can build up - like plaque in an artery - inside of a dryer exhaust, hose, or the pipe in the wall, causing the dryer to overheat and ignite the lint.

The state fire marshal helped 10 Investigates set up a demonstration where lint burned in a dryer for more than eight minutes.  Had the dryer been running, experts say it would have pushed hot air and flames out the back of the dryer.

White plastic ducts can also be deadly.  They can burst into flames, setting your laundry room on fire.

Rigid aluminum or galvanized steel ducts can keep the flames contained, but carry the fire right into the building walls.

Rick Guttridge of Dryer Vent Wizard runs a company that cleans dryer vents for homes and multi-family units.  He says dryer manufacturers recommend the vets be cleaned on an annual basis.  During cleanings, technicians use rotating brushes to literally scrape lint from vent walls.

However Guttridge cautions that he’s not aware of any laws in Ohio that require multi-family condos or apartments to have their dryer vents cleaned on a regular basis.

Ohio Fire Marshal Larry Flowers says the best prevention for dryer fires is good housekeeping.  He agrees dryer lint should regularly be cleaned, but he's not ready to advocate for a change in the fire code.

Mifflin Township Fire Inspector Randall Hormann says his department isn't waiting.  "We realized it has the potential to be a bigger problem than we originally thought.”

Based on 10TV’s investigation, Hormann says he has found a way to regulate lint in apartments and condos using the current fire code.

"Rule Three of the Fire Code talks about combustible waste.  (It) doesn't specifically talk about dryer lint. At the end of the day, dryer lint is combustible waste and if it's allowed to accumulate within the building, that, in theory, is a violation of the

Fire Code covered in Rule Three,” Hormann explains.

Mifflin Township Fire officials intend to use that language to put owners of multi-family complexes on notice that they are responsible for cleaning dryer vents, not the tenants.

10 Investigates encourages apartment or condo tenants to ask their landlord how often they clean dryer vents.  If they say never, you should suggest they get them cleaned before a plugged vent leads to a fire.

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