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Consumer Reports studies appliance fire causes

February 2, 2012 5:51:48 AM PST
Home appliances cause an estimated 150,000 fires every year, resulting in 150 deaths and more than $500 million in property damage. A new Consumer Reports investigation has turned up disturbing findings. While many of those fires are due to human error, a troubling number are caused by defective appliances.

A fire that spread through a home in Indiana started in the kitchen. The cause was a toaster, according to fire officials.

"It was just horrendous, just horrendous," homeowner Beverly Uberti said. "What wasn't destroyed by fire was destroyed by smoke and water damage."

Another fire, homeowners say, started in their dishwasher while they were out of the house.

According to fire officials, a third fire started in a microwave, even though the homeowners say it wasn't in use.

Consumer Reports reviewed 69,000 reports of house fires blamed on appliances between 2002 and 2009. The investigation found a significant number were not caused by human error.

"We found at least 23 percent are clearly attributable to problems with the appliances - mechanical, electrical, or design flaws," Consumer Reports' Dan DiClerico said. "In some instances, the appliances turned on by themselves."

Faulty appliances causing the most fires were ranges, followed by dryers, air conditioners, refrigerators and dishwashers.

"In the last five years, more than seven million dishwashers have been recalled due to defects that could cause a fire," DiClerico said. "And nearly eight million other appliances have been recalled for fire risks."

To check if an appliance you own has been recalled, you can go to Recalls.gov

So why are there so many recalls due to fire hazards?

"Appliances have gotten a lot more complex, so more can go wrong," DiClerico said. "And many recalled products are being manufactured abroad, the majority in China."

Consumer Reports says until appliance design and quality are improved, homeowners are left to wonder if the appliances in their homes are safe.

In response to Consumer Reports' investigation, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers said designing and manufacturing safe products is a top priority of its members. As for homeowners, there are important steps you can take. Register new appliances with the manufacturer so you'll receive recall notices. And don't run your dryer or dishwasher overnight or when you're away.

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