Contact 6: What's building up in your dryer that can cause a fire

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Have you ever put a load of laundry in the dryer and then left the house? Or how about before you go to bed? Contact 6 shows you what's building up in your dryer that's dangerous.

Early in the morning, the call came in. 2:43 a.m. to be exact.

"They were here within minutes," says Karen Messec, concerned neighbor.

A duplex in the Town of Somers on fire -- with a woman trapped upstairs. Messec remembers it well -- Sheriff Deputy John Scifes was the first one on the scene, and the smoke was thick.

"So he kicked the back door in and went up the stairs, he said it was terrible," says Messec.

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth agrees.

"He couldn't see her and she couldn't see him," says Beth.

"He said can you see my flash light and she said yeah..he said come toward the light," says Messec.

Luckily, she did, because the heat soon took over.

"It's melting along the edges here, it started to peel up on top," says Beth. "The sheriff's department determined the cause of the fire was in the dryer, and it was determined it was 15 years of accumulation."

We're not talking about the simple lint trap in the front that you should clean after every load, we're talking about underneath, around the motor, and the vent to the outside of the machine.

When's the last time you cleaned yours?

"Dryer fires, we have a lot of those. We experience them throughout the county, we had a death a few years ago with a dryer fire," says Beth.

In Milwaukee County so far this year, there have been 13 dryer fires. In the last five years -- a total of 141 fires.

It's crazy when you think about it, because Somers Fire Cheif, John Sorensen, says the fix is easy.

The first thing you do is turn the gas off, and then pull the plug. Then disconnect the vent pipes and move the dryer away from the wall. You need to remove the vent pipe totally from the machine. Then you examine the inside of the pipe. Run a vacuum cleaner through, get whatever lint has built up in the pipe.

The type of vent pipe you have is crucial to protect your family.

"A lot of people put this flexible foil in their house because it's really easy to work. The NFP does not recommend this at all," says Sorensen. "The ridges in this can collect the lint and dust very quickly. It causes a slow flow. You're dryer can over heat and you can have a fire."

Thank it's no big deal? We set up a test. On the left is the cheaper, flexible foil pipe. On the right a solid metal pipe.

Not only the lint, but the foil tube catches fire, in only 10 seconds. If you need a flexible vent, buy one that's rigid aluminum, not foil.

"Much more strong..much more fire preventive," says Sorensen.

Then, once a year, a simple brush or vacuum will normally do the job.

"If it's extremely clogged you will need to have a professional take the back off of your dryer.  It's something more than a homeowner can do," says Beth.

But you need to do it! So whether you invest your own time, or spend your money to hire a professional, it's cheap compared to what could happen. Remember, Messec's neighbor left with nothing but her nightgown.

"After she called me, I got her house shoes and a robe to put on," says Messec.

Everything else ruined. Thrown out because of a fire, which didn't have to happen.