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FORT LEE, Va. (Nov. 29, 2012) -- According to a recent report from the National Fire Protection Association, clothes dryers are responsible for more than 15,546 fires annually that resulted in 51 civilian deaths, 380 civilian injuries and $236 million in direct property damage.

The leading cause of these fires is not mechanical failure, but a failure by the user to properly clean lint from the dryer, the lint filter and vent hoses. Many people underestimate the dangers associated with combining lint and heat.

Here’s how a clothes dryer works according to the U.S. Fire Administration:

A clothes dryer works by forcing hot air through a turning drum. Wet clothes placed in the drum are then dried by the moving hot air. It is possible for a full load of wet clothes to contain one and a half gallons of water.

Lint is created from the clothes as the water is removed and the clothes dry. While much of the lint is trapped by the dryer’s filter, lint also is carried through the venting system together with moist air. The accumulation of lint, both in the dryer and in the dryer vent, reduces the airflow and creates a highly flammable fuel source.

By failing to properly clean a dryer’s lint filter and vent hoses, users not only have a system lined with a combustible lint coating, they also have reduced the dryer’s ability to expel heat.

If the dryer can’t release heat, it will continue to get hotter and hotter eventually reaching the ignition temperature of the accumulated lint throughout the system or clothing within the dryer.

Another factor to poor air circulation through a lint filter is the use of fabric softener dryer sheets. The residue left on the lint screen from these products tends to fill in the holes on the older screen style lint filters. This can be easily corrected by occasionally washing the filter screen in hot water.

Follow these suggestions to reduce the chances of a fire involving a clothes dryer:

• Have the dryer installed and serviced by professionals who follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

• Dryers should be properly grounded.

• Ensure that the right plug and outlet are used and connect the machine properly.

• Do not use a dryer without a lint filter.

• Check and clean out the lint filter before every use.

• Clean the lint out of the exhaust pipe, the area around the drum and the rear of the dryer regularly. Clean under the dryer regularly.

• Keep the area clear of items like boxes, clothes and cleaning supplies that can burn.

• Check the outdoor vent flap to ensure it is not covered by snow or ice or obstructed by leaves or other yard debris.

• Never put synthetic materials such as rubber, plastic, foam or pieces of cloth that have been used to sponge up flammable liquids in the dryer, even if previously washed.

• Clothes that have come in contact with flammable substances like gasoline or paint thinner should be dried outside before being washed.

• The exhaust pipe should be as short as possible and have limited bends to allow for adequate airflow.

• Do not use a cheap white vinyl vent hose. The best choices are rigid steel or aluminum ducts.

• Never let your clothes dryer run while you are out of the house or asleep.

• Have gas-powered dryers inspected by a professional annually to ensure that the gas line and connections are intact.

• Whenever you move the dryer, be sure that the hoses have not come disconnected.

Clothes dryers have been the cause of many home and commercial building fires. Following these safety tips can greatly reduce the chances of suffering from a similar fire.

Fort Lee Fire and Emergency Services actively promotes fire safety to all who work, live and visit Fort Lee. For any questions or assistance, call the Fire Prevention Office at (804) 734-6597.