The Ottumwa Courier

March 26, 2013

Family, firefighters unhurt in Friday fire

Homeowners may want to check their own laundry rooms

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — It’s a painful way to get an education about hazards around the home: A neighbor’s house is destroyed by fire.

The culprit in last week’s blaze in the 400 block of South Davis Street, said the city’s top fire investigator, was the clothes dryer.

Around 8 p.m. Friday, the Ottumwa Fire Department arrived at the house.

“The house was fully [engulfed] when we arrived,” said Ottumwa Assistant Fire Chief Cory Benge, the city’s fire marshal.

An eyewitness said she saw smoke before the fire department arrived, then, within five minutes, flame started shooting out the front of the house near a picture window and front door. It went up quick, the witness reported.

“They had four people in the house,” said Chief Tony Miller, “three children and an adult. They smelled smoke, the smoke detectors went off and they all got out of the house. “

No firefighters were injured.

At the point it appears a structure will be lost to flames, the main objective becomes protecting neighboring houses, he said. They were able to do that but could not save the house.

“It was the dryer,” said Benge. “An issue with the lint trap.”

And no, agreed the assistant chief, it’s not an obvious thing people think about normally, especially when considering the possible destruction of their residence.

“I went home and reminded my wife,” he said.

He and the chief added that there was another contributing factor to Friday night’s fire. The dryer had clothing pressed against it. But why would that be a problem?

“It needs to get cool air circulating,” said Miller, “to cool those heating elements.”

Clothing or other objects can act to insulate the machine, almost creating an oven and allowing it to get so hot any lint in the trap can begin to smolder and burn.

That may not be obvious either, they said. Which means there may be other homes in Ottumwa right now where the dryer has no room to breath or has a full or missing lint trap.

On an Ottumwa Courier social media page, the adult who lived in the house said it took too long for the firetrucks to get there. She wrote having to go through Mahaska County emergency dispatchers slowed the process. Ottumwa’s 911 system was damaged recently and is currently not operational.

“That is being investigated,” acknowledged the chief.

Benge said the police lieutenant in charge of dispatching and communications at the Wapello County Law Center is checking to see if there was a delay related to the change is procedure and why the delay occurred.