New Brunswick

Fredericton fire officials warn about dryer fires

Fire officials in Fredericton are warning people against putting pillows in their clothes dryer after a recent fire at Forest Hill Towers.

Putting pillows in dryers and allowing lint to build up can have disastrous consequences

Fire officials in Fredericton are warning people against putting pillows in their clothes dryer after a recent fire at Forest Hill Towers.

A fire in the laundry room at Forest Hill Towers in June was contained to one dryer when the sprinkler system activated. (Submitted by Fredericton Fire Department)
Acting Deputy Fire Chief David McKinley says inspectors believe the fire in the industrial-type dryer was caused by too many bulky items being put in the dryer, including pillows.

"There were pillows in it and when you're drying pillows is what happens is that they retain a lot of heat, by their very nature they have insulating properties, and so what happens is they can overheat, and spontaneously combust."

A recent study out of Alberta that included 2007 statistics from New Brunswick found three per cent of residential fires start in the laundry room.

One such fire in Toronto in the summer of 2013 killed four family members.

McKinley says the Fredericton Fire Department generally gets about a dozen dryer fire calls a year.

"Sometimes you lose a house. Sometimes if you leave home, and leave things in the dryer, and it catches fire — we had one just a year ago in Southwood Park — nobody noticed it until there was fire coming out the basement windows.

"By the time we got there, there was a lot of damage. The house wasn't lost, but the whole downstairs was gutted."

McKinley says homeowners and apartment building owners should follow a few, simple rules:

  • Let the dryer finish its cooling cycle. "People will be drying their clothing and they'll open the dryer if they're going out, and leave the house. What happens, is that they haven't allowed it to cool down, it's possible to have a fire start up then, shortly after they leave. We've had that happen before."
  • Clean the lint out of the lint filter, and the pipe that vents the dryer. "So with things like that, keeping your dryer lint cleaned out, there's a filter inside your dryer that has to be cleaned out every time you use your dryer."
  • Use metal venting pipes. "We suggest you use the solid metal piping, rather than the accordion piping, because that can catch lint, especially the plastic piping. Because you can get fires in your vents as well."
Chris Kilburn has worked at cleaning and repairing dryers for 35 years (Catherine Harrop/CBC)
Chris Kilburn has been cleaning ducts and dryer vents for 35 years and says he has seen some venting pipes so clogged with hair, dust and fur that "some of the vents we've cleaned had enough lint in them to knit a dog sweater."

Kilburn says another good practice is to keep the length of pipe from the back to the dryer to the vent as short as possible.

"The shorter the run, the less problem there will be."

Using duct tape to join pipes isn't the best solution either, said Kilburn, because duct tape will get brittle with the heat passing through the pipe, detaching the seal.