Six Surprising Home Hazards



You might
think home fires are due to someone leaving the oven running or the
coffee pot on. However, an alarming number of appliance fires are caused
by the units themselves as opposed to human error. The September 2013
issue of ShopSmart magazine, from Consumer Reports, indentifies six
appliances that cause the most fires and tips on how to minimize the

"It was shocking to learn that appliances can turn themselves on or
suddenly short-circuit and go up in flames," says Lisa Lee Freeman,
editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. "So it's important to learn the signs of
trouble and know what to do if you have to deal with an appliance fire."

ShopSmart analyzed data from the National Fire Incident Reporting
System from 2002 through 2009 and found appliances were the main cause
of 69,000 fires – with about half of the incidents linked to a
mechanical, electrical, or design flaw. Below are the appliances that
accounted for most of these fires and ways which consumers can minimize
their risk:

1. Ranges. Burners that turn on by themselves and
delayed ignition on a gas oven's bake and broil functions are the
leading contributors to a range fire.

Number of fires: 16,824

Play it safe: Look for any unusual error messages on
the range's digital display. Stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling,
or broiling food and be sure to keep flammable items, including oven
mitts, away from the cooktop. Kids should be kept at least 3 feet from
the cooking area.

2. Clothes Dryers: Lint buildup and blockages and gas leaks on dryers that run on gas can cause fires.

Number of fires: 8,717

Play it safe: Don't run dryers when asleep or when no
one is home.  Clean out the lint filter before each load and check vents
annually for clogs. If using a gas dryer, install a carbon monoxide
alarm near the laundry room to warn of leaks, which are poisonous.

3. Microwaves. Units that turn on by themselves and
glass doors that shatter unexpectedly can lead to a potential fire. 
Some microwave fire victims said that the panel flashed the code "PAN"
or "F2" as self-starting began.

Number of fires: 1,705

Play it safe: Don't store food or other items in the
microwave.  Look for unusual error messages on digital display panels
and if the unit goes on by itself, try to turn it off. Know where it's
plugged in and which circuit breaker controls it in case it won't turn
off using the microwave's controls.

4. Refrigerators: Fires can be caused by electronic
components that short-circuit, control boards that overheat, or by
lightbulbs that stay on when the door is shut.

Number of fires: 1,514

Play it safe: Be aware of unusual error messages on
fridges with digital displays. Check that the lightbulb goes off when
the fridge is closed by pressing the switch, which is usually inside
where the door closes.

5. Dishwashers: Fires can be caused by circuit
boards and heating elements catching fire, and liquid rinse aids that
can leak into circuitry, creating a fire hazard.

Number of fires: 1,015

Play it safe: Don't run a dishwasher when asleep or
when no one is home. If the rinse-aid dispenser needs constant
refilling, call for a repair.  Know which circuit breaker cuts power to
the unit in case it starts smoking or goes up in flames.

6. Toasters and toaster ovens: Two potential fire hazards are units that turn themselves on and mechanism jams while toasting.

Number of fires: 902

Play it safe: Unplug toasters when not in use and
inspect them for any frayed power cords. Don't toast anything that
doesn't easily fit into the slot.

The good news is that these incidents are rare given the millions of
appliances sold, and there are ways consumers can protect themselves
from an incident.

  • Register new appliances to be notified of service problems.

  • Check for recalls at  In the past six years, more than
    18.6 million appliances have been recalled for flaws that could cause a

Sources: Consumer Reports, ShopSmart magazine

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.