How to keep your appliances from catching fire - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

How to prevent an appliance fire

More than 150,000 residential fires are started by household appliances each year, resulting in 150 deaths, thousands of injuries and more than half a billion dollars in property damage.

While some of these fires are due to human error, many are caused by the actual appliances igniting. 

Every 90 seconds, a house catches on fire. In just minutes, a home can be fully engulfed in flames. Most residential fires occur at night, when people are asleep. Often, the origin of these devastating blazes is traced back to a home appliance.

Jose Torres is a division chief with the Santa Monica fire department in California. He has investigated dozens of house fires in which appliances were the sources of ignition.

"Today's appliances are more complex. They have more working parts to them. They have more features. And so, with every feature, there's that possibility that something could go wrong," says Torres.

He also notes that of the major home appliances, the dishwasher is among the most dangerous.

"You have the heating element that is inside that dries your dishes," says Torres. "If this heating element is not working properly, it can overheat and what that does is it may expose any plastic container that is set in the lower level of the dishwasher to ignite, and you can have a fire that is essentially raging inside of your dishwasher."

The dishwasher's control panel is another frequent ignition source.

"If this control panel were to get damaged by water or condensation, it can short this out, cause sparks and it may ignite the plastic casing around it. Once that fire starts and begins to spread, it can ignite combustible material around it," says Torres.

And don't be fooled by an appliance's size. Smaller ones cause fires just as big and deadly as those started by major appliances.

"We've had a rash of toaster fires and most of them are created by some malfunction in the unit. Inside the toaster, we have heating elements that can deteriorate over time and cause a fire. The toaster itself is encased in plastic, which is a combustible material. Our appliances are usually stored underneath our cabinets. And if it were to start a fire, where's it going to go? It's going to catch your cabinet on fire and then propagate from there," says Torres.

Coffee makers are also proven fire hazards.

"With a coffee maker, you have a heating plate, a thermostat, and a timer. All of these components have a potential to deteriorate and may cause a fire," Torres explains. "There's a heating element inside the coffee maker itself that heats the water and there have been problems in the past with that heating element catching the coffee filter basket on fire. If you notice that there's charring, or the plastic around the heating plate is warped or melted, it's an indicator that something is going wrong. It's a red flag to you that this may cause a fire in your home."

Of all the appliances found in the home, there's one that Chief Torres says is more lethal than any other.

"The space heater is a dangerous appliance," he says. "It produces a lot of heat in a very compact area. There's a potential for this thing to tip over. And if there's combustible material, the carpet, maybe plastic or paper, it's going to ignite and catch on fire. I don't recommend that you go to bed or go to sleep with a space heater on. Make sure you unplug it. Go to sleep safe and sound knowing that you don't have that potential for a fire."

Chief Torres says too many people ignore their appliances and don't maintain them properly. Unfortunately for some, it ends up being a tragic mistake.

"Pay attention to your appliances," says Torres. "They're taking care of you. You should be taking care of them."

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