Clothes dryer fires cause $35 million in residential property losses

John Egan

An estimated 2,900 clothes dryer fires in American residences cause about $35 million in property losses each year, according to a new report from the U.S. Fire Administration. These fires also lead to an estimated five deaths and 100 injuries every year, the report says.

Fortunately, home insurance policies typically cover damage from clothes dryer fires. However, filing a claim for damage from a clothes dryer fire probably will trigger a rise in your home insurance premium.

The report found that the average loss for a clothes dryer fire when it was limited to the appliance was less than $2,000. But if the fire spread beyond the floor where it started, the average loss exceeded $40,000.

The U.S. Fire Administration's report is based on data from 2008 to 2010. Among the other findings:

  • Clothes dryer fires happened most often in the fall and winter months, peaking in January 11 percent of fires). "The increase in fires in the cooler months may be explained by the quantity and type of clothes worn in these months," the report says. "In addition, people are less likely to dry clothes outdoors during the cooler months than during the warmer months."
  • Failure to clean a clothes dryer 34 percent) was the No. 1 factor in these fires.
  • Dust, fiber and lint 28 percent) were the most common items first ignited in clothes dryer fires.

In the report, "residential" refers to homes, apartment buildings, hotels, motels and other places where people live. One- and two-family homes accounted for 77 percent of clothes dryer fires from 2008 to 2010, the report says.

"For many households and other establishments, the clothes dryer is an indispensible convenience and necessity. However, damaging fires can occur if clothes dryers are not properly installed and maintained," the report says.

The U.S. Fire Administration, part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offers these suggestions for keeping your clothes dryer running safely:

  • Have it installed by a qualified professional.
  • Clean the lint filter before and after each cycle.
  • Inspect the venting system behind the dryer to make sure it's not damaged, crushed or restricted.
  • Keep the area around the dryer clear of items that can burn.
  • Unplug or disconnect the dryer if you'll be away from home for an extended period.
  • Don't operate a dryer without a lint filter or with a filter that's loose, damaged or clogged.
  • Don't dry anything that contains foam, rubber or plastic, such as bathroom rugs.
  • Don't leave your dryer running if you're leaving home or going to sleep.
Don't dry items that have come into contact with anything flammable, such as cooking oil or gasoline.

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