County News: Fire safety warning after six cases of spontaneous combustion

The woman's Careline System automatically detected the fireThe woman's Careline System automatically detected the fire
The woman's Careline System automatically detected the fire
Fire safety officers are warning of the dangers of spontaneous combustion after attending six cases of the phenomenon in the last 16 months.

The latest instance occurred at a launderette in Tilgate, Crawley, on Saturday May 2.

Investigations revealed that a fire broke out as a result of essential oils that had not been washed out of towels properly. After being tumble dried and stacked in piles the towels had spontaneously burst into flames.

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The fire in Crawley is just the latest in a string of similar incidents that West Sussex crews have attended recently.

Last month it emerged that a fire at a hotel in Chichester, which took more than 50 firefighters to extinguish, was caused by oil residue on tea towels left in a tumble dryer.

Fire Investigation Officer for West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, Richard Bradley, speaking after the latest incident, said:

“Spontaneous combustion might seem like a strange phenomenon for people to contemplate but my fire investigation colleagues around the country and I have been identifying a growing number of these types of incidents.

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“Residue of grease or oil – particularly from vegetable and animal based fats – not properly washed out of linen can start a fire. The problem seems to arise when the wash cycle has not been hot enough to remove oil residue. If laundry is then heated in a tumble dryer it can ignite.

“We are doing all we can in West Sussex to raise awareness of this issue. We’ve produced a simple guidance poster and are in the process of contacting hotels, pubs, launderettes and other businesses and urging them to display the advice in their laundry rooms.”

West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service advice:


Ensure wash temperatures and detergents are suitable for the optimum removal of oil based contaminants

Allow laundry to complete the cooling cycle in the tumble dryer

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Shake out laundry to ventilate before folding or place garments on hangers

Ensure stack or pile is well ventilated

Clean filters, remove fluff, lint and debris from dryers and keep them regularly maintained


Place warm, damp laundry in polythene bags or plastic containers/baskets or in poorly ventilated areas

Leave freshly laundered fabrics stacked overnight

Remove laundry from the tumble dryer before completing the cooling cycle

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Forget to test your smoke alarm – only working smoke alarms give an early warning to a developing fire!

Businesses can access further advice by visiting calling 0330 0222 3333 or following @WSFRSFireSafety on Twitter.

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