Dryer fire prompts call for vigilance

Tony Onisko and his wife Charlene say they were lucky to be home when something went wrong with their clothes dryer.

Burning clothes dryer wouldn’t go out 'no matter what we tried,' says Edmonton homeowner

Charlene Onisko does the laundry with the family's new dryer after the previous one caught fire. (CBC)

Tony Onisko and his wife Charlene say they were lucky to be home when something went wrong with their clothes dryer.

"I was playing with the kids in a fort we made and my wife was upstairs painting, and we both heard a bang," Tony said.

They went to the laundry room and saw smoke coming out of the dryer.

"I pulled the plug," said Tony, "I thought I solved the problem and said to Charlene, ‘Well, the dryer’s done.’"

He went back to play with his children and to think about appliance shopping.

'No matter what I did, water was just not putting this fire out' —Tony Onisko, homeowner

"But 30 seconds later my wife called me and said it was fully engulfed," he said.

"I saw piles of black smoke, gross black smoke and flames coming out of the dryer door."

Without thinking Onisko grabbed the appliance and wrestled it out the door, through the garage and into the driveway.

Then he tried dousing the fire with buckets of water.

"No matter what I did, water was just not putting this fire out," Onisko said.

He took an axe to the dryer to break it open so he could get at the flames.

Most dryer fires caused by lint build-up

Fire investigators concluded the fire began in the dryer’s plastic blower assembly.

Go Public  took the melted remains of the blower to Gerrie Gemmell, manager of Aptco Appliance in Edmonton.

Tony Onisko used an axe to put out the fire after dragging the burning dryer from his home. (CBC)

Gemmell said he’s seen many dryer fires over the year, and almost all were caused by a build up of lint in the machine.

Gemmell speculates a blockage of lint somewhere in the dryer was preventing hot air from getting out of the dryer.

"When you have restriction you have fire," Gemmell said.

Tony Onisko says his family cleaned the lint filter after every load. He says even he opened the back of the dryer every year and vacuumed the components and venting hoses.

He feels there must have been something wrong with the seven-year-old Frigidaire dryer to cause it to catch fire after the care he’d taken to keep it clean.

There have been no recalls of the dryer model and Gemmell says in his more than 40 years in the business, lint is almost always responsible.

He says one solution is to get the dryer cleaned at the same time as you get your furnace ducts cleaned.

"For (an extra) $25 they put their big power cleaner and clean up the base of the dryer and clean up the vent to the outside."

More than a dozen fires started by dryers last year

Edmonton’s fire department reported 13 fires caused by burning dryers in 2012.

Almost all dryer fires are caused by lint build up, says repairman Gerrie Gemmell. (CBC)

Fire Investigator Cory Heggert agrees the problem is usually a lint build-up, either in the machine or in the venting leading to the outside of the house.

Heggert says that flexible plastic venting pipe that was commonly used a decade ago should be replaced because the ribbing traps lint and the tubing itself is not fire resistant.

"What we like to see is aluminum piping," Heggert said. "Try and stay away from (hoses) that are collapsible."

Heggert’s other advice: never go out and leave your dryer, or other appliances such as the dishwasher, running.

"Just being around when these appliances are running could potentially save a life, save a house, save a lot of damage being done."

Tony Onisko says his family was lucky.

"We had a lot of things going for us that day," he said.

"The fact that we were home, that (the dryer) was close to the door to get it out, and the fact that I’m just big and could haul it out.

What I did learn, honestly, we’ll never leave the dryer running when we leave the house."



Mark Harvey

Producer, Edmonton AM

Mark Harvey is a producer for CBC Edmonton's morning radio program, Edmonton AM. He's been a journalist for almost 30 years as a reporter, host and producer.