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LAFAYETTE, Ind – The Lafayette Fire Department recently responded to and extinguished a fire at a massage parlor. The cause of the fire was determined to be organic oils on towels and bed linen that had been washed, dried, returned to the business around 1130pm the night before. The material laid dormant until around 8:30am the next morning.

Surveillance video from the store shows the intensity and speed in which the fire moved once ignition took place. The Lafayette Fire Department did extensive research and found these types of fires are happening more frequently than realized.

“A well-documented feature of organic oils is that they have self-heating properties which in certain situations can progress to fire if not correctly handled,” stated Captain Todd Budd, Lafayette Fire Department. “When stored in bulk, there may be minimal increase in temperature but if the oil is spread as a thin layer on a porous surface like cotton cloth, the surface area exposed to oxygen (air) is increased and heating may occur. Oil contaminated fabrics that have been sent for laundering have also been known to ignite while being dried. Enzyme-based laundry powders and cold washes do not remove all oils and fats and these can remain in the fabrics. In one test cotton towels containing linseed oil that were laundered self-heated to 575°C before bursting into flame.”

The Lafayette Fire Department would like to make this fire hazard aware to similar businesses, laundry services, and anyone who may use these products and encourage the safe handling to prevent this unfortunate occurrence.

To avoid this happening you should:

  • Most spontaneous ignitions occur in washed and dried linens containing residual material.
  • Always allow the drier to complete its full cycle including the cool down period.
  • Before and after laundering, ensure fabrics that may have been contaminated with organic oils are spread out to allow the dissipation of heat.
  • Educate staff about the possibility of spontaneous combustion and how to reduce the fire risk for your business. Post a sign to remind employees to clean lint traps after every use and vent ductwork often (at least 4 times per year.)
  • Process soiled linens immediately and do not store for extended periods of time.
  • If you must store linens prior to washing, store them outside and away from other combustibles, preferably in a metal container with a metal self-closing lid.
  • Completely wash the linens at a high temperature of at least 104° F prior to drying.
  • Avoid large stacks or piles of linens. Separate them into smaller piles.
  • Dry the linens on low heat (below 125° F) to avoid the oil’s flashpoint.
  • If you must stack linens, spread them to allow for ventilation and cooling.

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