A small dryer fire provides a big lesson.

One recent Saturday I emerged from my home’s basement computer room (also known as the basement guest room and basement clutter room) to find my wife, Nancy, squatting behind our clothes dryer.
For months we had noted that the dryer was taking more and more cycles to get items such as a load of towels completely dry. Our assumption was that the dryer, which we’ve had since our 16-year-old daughter, Anna, was a toddler, was just beginning to show its age, like a lot of appliances (and at least one person) in the Henley household seem to be these days.
Since our conclusion was we would need to be buying a new dryer in the not-too-distant future, we just kept using our old dryer. We were forced out of our “do nothing” course of action recently when Nancy reported a load of clothes came out of the dryer with a “smoky” smell.
While I’m not a believer in reincarnation, if I was I’d be convinced that in a previous life my bride was a bloodhound because of her keen sense of smell. She can track down one of my wayward, unwashed socks like none other. So when she told me about the odd smelling clothes, I didn’t give the matter a lot of consideration until a few of the items were produced and my far-less-sensitive sniffer confirmed Nancy’s findings.
As I wrote my weekly “A Little Salt” that Saturday, Nancy was on the upstairs computer doing some research and watching a tutorial on dryer maintenance for the make we have. By the time I’d finished my writing, she had already gotten her tool box out, pulled the dryer away from the basement wall and pulled off its back panel.
Inside the bowels of the device Nancy quickly discovered a wad of lint the size of a small sheep. But more alarming was the fact that some of the link was black as a result of having been burned.
According to a recent report about clothes dryer fires from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), an estimated 2,900 residential dryer fires are reported to fire departments each year in the U.S. They cause an estimated five deaths, 100 injuries and $35 million in property loss.
It’s safe to say that we had dodged a bullet, considering our “fire” had apparently done more smoldering than burning. And considering it’s not uncommon for us to leave home with the dryer running, or go to bed with that appliance still on, we were indeed fortunate to have not become a statistical part of the USFA’s next clothes dryer fire report.
There will be those who will say we were the benefactors of blind luck, pure and simple. But in the Henley home more than a few prayers of gratitude have been offered up.
The USFA report pegged as the leading cause of dryer fires (34 percent) the failure to clean the device. That goes hand in hand with the items that most often catching fire - dust, fiber and lint (28 percent).
Neither Nancy or I could readily identify the last time our dryer had been given a thorough cleaning, which we did over approximately the next three-hour period that day. By the time we had finished with the dryer and the connected vent piping, we had amassed a pile of lint comparable to a medium-sized sheep.
I’m not big on making New Year’s resolutions, but I made one recently. My resolution is that early in 2014 the vacuum, clothes dryer and I (and hopefully my tool-packing bride) will all come together for another lint-sucking session.