Investigator: Latest dishwasher fire suspected in Geauga

10:01 AM, Feb 7, 2012   |    comments
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MUNSON TWP. -- It's an everyday appliance, but investigators now suspect that a dishwasher is the cause of an extraordinary fire that quickly devoured a Rockhaven Road home and left a family homeless.

By the time firefighters arrived, the fire had swept through the kitchen and was moving into the cottage's other rooms. All that was left of the dishwasher was a metal frame and a few circuits that investigators are now examining.

It turns out the homeowners were not alone. Consumer Reports recently found nearly 2,000 incidents involving appliance fires based on federal data.

Roughly 15 million appliances have been recalled because of potential dangers. About half of those recalls dealt with dishwashers with defects that could start a fire.

That's not all. A class-action lawsuit claims that hundreds of homeowners owned dishwashers that spontaneously caught on fire because of a defective design that the manufacturers have ignored for four years.

List of dishwashers in class action suit

The manufacturers have yet to issue a recall involving those dishwashers.

But nearly 500 people -- including residents of Lakewood, Chagrin Falls, Broadview Heights, Akron, as well as all over Ohio -- have sounded the alarm on the Internet about them.

The lawsuit accuses Whirlpool and Sears, Roebuck & Co. of designing and selling dishwashers that the companies knew were defective as early as 2008.

The complaint alleges that KitchenAid and Kenmore brand dishwashers have defective electronic circuit boards that "spontaneously overheat and cause the dishwasher to emit smoke and fumes and erupt in flames."

It notes that the resulting fire puts lives and property at risk, adding that the smoke contains "harmful gases, vapors and particulate matter" that can quickly fill the entire house.  Some fires have caused thousands of dollars in damage.

"This can happen when the machine is on and it can also happen when the machine is off," attorney Charles Fox told the Investigator Tom Meyer.   "That is a disaster waiting to happen."

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is currently investigating.

In a written statement, Whirlpool said it is investigating reports of fires.  The company added that its dishwashers have "components that turn off power to the control board in the extremely unlikely event  the control board begins to overheat."

Theresa and Donny Owens were home when their KitchenAid dishwasher caught fire--- twice--- in six months. 

"We started it up, ran it and heard a loud pop," said Donny Owens. "Before you know it, it was on fire."

"We could have came home to a burned up house," said Theresa Owens.

The Owens never complained to the manufacturer. But the Armours of Broadview Heights did when their dishwasher caught fire last month - and they got an unexpected answer.

The Armours were awake one night - just before bed -- when they noticed an unpleasant smell coming from their kitchen. It was only after investigating that they found their dishwasher was smoking.

"We may not have burned to death, but we may have died of fumes," said Carol Armour.

An employee denied any knowledge of other complaints and refused to help because the dishwasher was no longer under warranty.

"I think she was reading off a script," said Carol Armour. "They told me good-bye. That's it. You're on your own."

The lawsuit seeks to force Whirlpool and Sears to adopt a national campaign to notify owners of the problem, pay for the dishwashers or defective circuit boards and compensate owners for any damage or injuries caused by the defects.

To file a complaint with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, you can either call (800) 638-2772    or visit Complaints for Whirlpool products can be made by calling the company at (800) 422-1230.


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