An attached single-family dwelling located along a river near the Jersey Shore was the scene of a major structural fire. The insured’s college-age son was in a third-floor room studying. While in the living room on the second floor, the insured observed smoke flashing past the windows. A smoke detector sounded on the first floor within seconds. Moving down to the first floor, the insured observed fire venting from the laundry room, and was quickly driven from the first floor to the exterior of the house. He immediately called for his son, who responded that he could not exit via the interior stairway due to the flames on the first floor. After descending the stairs to the second floor, the son was forced to jump from a window.
A forensic investigation revealed the well-involved fire originated in an electric clothes dryer. Fire patterns on the dryer were consistent with an extensive lint buildup. Further evaluation of the fire patterns and fire extension within the first floor showed an unusual configuration for the routing of the metal exhaust duct for the dryer vent. The builder had decided to route the exhaust from the laundry room near the front of the structure to the rear wall adjacent to a parking lot, an extended run for metal ducting.
The insured stated that he had the dryer duct cleaned more than a year before the fire. In his opinion, the dryer was operating properly. Removal of the dryer from the laundry room showed an excessive lint accumulation in the duct pipe. The duct transitioned into a 90º bend extending within a ceiling void to the rear of the dwelling. At the downstream end of the 90º bend, an octopus-looking device was found lodged in the duct pipe. Evident by inspection, the duct cleaning contractor lost the duct whip during his procedure. Unfortunately, the insured was unable to recall the contractor that had been used.