12:25 PM EST, February 11, 2013
Every year, there are approximately 15,000 dryer fires according to the National Fire Protection Agency. It's a hidden danger in just about everyone's home that most people don't think about until it's too late. It even happened at Robert De Niro’s apartment in New York City, causing extensive damage. And three members of an Indiana family died in a blaze in January, when a fire started in the first floor dryer and quickly spread throughout the house.
According to Montgomery County Maryland Fire Chief Richie Bowers, the culprit for many of these fires, including the one in Indiana, is lint buildup that can easily ignite, “It is very combustible. Once this starts to burn, everything in this room can start to burn,” said Bowers.
The department set up a mock laundry room to simulate how fast dryer fires can spread.
"I see smoke coming out of the top of the dryer," said Guerrero.
"That's very typical of how a fire starts in the initial stages," said Bowers.
Three minutes later, flames start shooting out of the back of the dryer. In eight minutes, the whole room is up in flames. A fire like this can spread throughout the house very quickly.
So could you have a hidden danger in your home? We went out with dryer expert William Ruifrok, owner of Dryer Vent Pro of Chantilly, Virginia, to inspect homes outside Washington DC.
The first dryer he inspected looked brand new. But, according to the homeowner, it was taking hours to dry the clothes. Ruifrok quickly found the problem - a lint duct vent that was crushed when the dryer was pushed up against the wall, preventing lint from escaping. The lint was dangerously accumulating all over including around the electrical outlet.
Guerrero asked, "Is this just a fire waiting to happen?"
"Yes it is," said Ruifrok.
The homeowner was surprised and a bit embarrassed.
"Are you shocked to see the danger right here hiding in your home?" asked Guerrero.
"I knew it was going to be bad, but I'm still surprised how bad it is," said the homeowner. "It could have taken the whole house out."
At another house a few miles away, Ruifrok checked out a homeowner’s dryer by snaking a camera through the exhaust vent. Sure enough, he found it dangerously covered with lint. The owner was shocked.
"It's horrifying to think that our family is right here with this time bomb," said the homeowner.
So what can you do to protect yourself? Kate Carr, President of Safe Kids Worldwide has simple tips.
"First thing you want to do is make sure you clean your dryer filters as well as the vent system. Then keep anything that's combustible away from the dryer so that if you do have some type of fire, it doesn't have a chance of spreading," said Carr.
For more dryer safety information from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, check out their website: http://www.aham.org/dryersafety