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Close call for home; smoldering electric blanket burns hole in mattress

A smoldering electric blanket burned a hole in this mattress, located in a bedroom of a home on Sunday Drive. Fire Chief Vern Long said that if the scene had been exposed to more oxygen, a fire could have erupted.   - Ann Templeton Monin
A smoldering electric blanket burned a hole in this mattress, located in a bedroom of a home on Sunday Drive. Fire Chief Vern Long said that if the scene had been exposed to more oxygen, a fire could have erupted.
— image credit: Ann Templeton Monin

An electric blanket burned through a mattress in a bedroom at 817 Sunday Drive in Friday Harbor, Feb. 16.

Renter Christine Dawson and her family were off-island at the time of the fire. A neighbor, Gary Hanson, heard the smoke alarm and called sheriff's dispatch. The call was received at 1:26 p.m.; Friday Harbor and San Juan Island District 3 firefighters went to the home.

Incident Commander Frank Chaffee arrived first at 1:29 p.m. He contacted sheriff's dispatch and asked homeowners Walt and Judy Cornell to deliver the keys to the home. Neither flames or smoke were visible at the time. Within 10 minutes, Judy delivered the keys from her home on Wood Duck Lane.

Firefighters immediately found the source of smoke in a child's bedroom and extinguished the smoldering fire inside the mattress. No further damage occurred to the home.

“If there had been enough oxygen in the bedroom, the fire would have affected the entire structure,” Friday Harbor Fire Chief Vern Long said. The structure would have been in flames if another 10 to 20 minutes had passed.

Long said smoldering fires within a structure heat up a space very slowly. Slow burns cause heat to build up within a space and ignite quickly if oxygen if released into the area.

The Cornells are currently investigating the extent of smoke damage that occurred in the home.

Electric blankets are known to cause house fires due to the combination of heat, electricity and flammable bedding material. Most fires caused by electric blankets are caused by those 10 years or older.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that from 2002-05, there were an average of 11,520 home structure fires per year in which a mattress or bedding was the first item ignited. Such fires caused an annual average of 378 civilian fire deaths. One out of every 31 mattress or bedding fires resulted in death.

In the United Kingdom, an estimated 5,000 fires are caused annually due to faulty electric blankets.

Fire officials recommend:

— Replace electric blankets more than 10 years old.
— Replace blankets that are worn, torn, frayed electric cords, or damaged control settings.
— Avoid plugging blankets into an outlet controlled by a light switch.
— Avoid piling toys, pillows and blankets on top of electric blankets. Excessive heat can build up, causing the blanket to ignite.
— Never wash an electric blanket. The twisting, tugging and turning action of the washing machine will damage the internal coils.
— Do not dry clean blankets.
— Turn blanket off before going to sleep unless made for overnight purposes.

Chaffee thanked District 3 firefighters for supporting Friday Harbor Fire Department on the call. “Thank you for a job well done.”

Seven district and 15 town officers and firefighters, in addition to six pieces of equipment, went to the scene.

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