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Oily Rags Cause Fire

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CORVALLIS, Ore. – A load of laundry ignited a small fire – and it has prompted firefighters to put out a warning to anyone who uses rags.

On Monday, the Corvallis Fire Department was dispatched to the Beaver Lodge, a residential co-op near the Oregon State University campus. Jim Patton, the Fire Prevention Officer for the department says there was not any damage to the house, nor were there injuries – but the way the fire started was unusual.

“A pile of rags were washed and then put in the dryer,” he said. “And then another resident came down and took them out of the dryer, put them on top of the dryer, and then put some other clothing on top of that.”

Patton says some of the rags were used to scrub off cooking oils from different kitchen surfaces. Others were likely used to polish furniture.

“Even though the fabric was clean, not all of the oil was removed from the fabric,” Patton said. “Then it was put in the dryer, which sort of accelerated that self-heating process, and it eventually led to ignition.”

Patton says the fire was caused by spontaneous combustion – something that can also happen with piles of grass and hay if they get wet.

“As it dries out, it heats internally, and eventually, if it’s not allowed to cool, it can heat enough to ignite nearby combustibles,” he said.

Patton says spontaneous combustion can still happen with a pile of oily rags – even if they haven’t been put in the dryer. Heat can build up within the pile and self-ignite.

Though Monday’s fire was unusual, Patton says the fire is something that everyone can learn from.

“Don’t re-use your rags,” he said. “Dry them completely and then throw them away in the trash outside your house.”

He says if someone is using a lot of oily rags and are not able to dry them out immediately, they can be put in metal containers with tight lids in order to prevent oxygen accumulation.

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