Dishwasher dangers? Scripps dishwasher fire investigation

(WXYZ) - In the hours before their Thanksgiving meal, it was firefighters and not family, who arrived at the Logan's home.

"She saw the smoke coming out of the kitchen, along with the flames..." says Ken Logan.

Flames that charred the Logan's kitchen and filled their Kansas home with smoke. The blackened pieces that remain leave little doubt in their minds as to where this fire started.

"There's no question...it came from the dishwasher," says Logan.

The Logans are not alone in their kitchen close call.

Fire investigation reports we obtained don't zero in on a cause, but they do show a potential problem with home owners and some investigators blaming dishwasher fires for this damage and even a death at an Oregon home.

It is an issue that spans the nation--from Michigan to Florida, from Arizona to Colorado.

Our 7 Action News investigation found fires in dishwashers in almost every state, including Maryland.

CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE DETAILS ON THE SCRIPPS DISHWASHER FIRE INVESTIGATION

"We're pretty lucky, I think," says Paul Luskey of Baltimore.

It was the smell of burning plastic that woke Luskey and his wife. A small fire in their dishwasher didn't destroy their kitchen, but pictures of a scorched control panel prove what could have happened.

"It's serious but people may not have heard," says Luskey.

But the federal government knows. Between March and November of 2011, more than 260 complaints related to dishwasher incidents were logged with www.saferproducts.gov , a public website run by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of those, more than half reported smoke or flames.

While a few hundred potential disasters were made public in that online forum, our investigation uncovered that the CPSC knows of more than 16,000 reported problems with dishwashers in the last five years.

Those complaints simply aren't shared with the public—unless you ask to see them. in 80 percent of those cases, consumers reported a fire.

"A rep came out to the house and asked me a lot of questions," says a Phoenix man who complained about a dishwasher fire.

We have questions too about what brands are mentioned in those cases. The CPSC won't tell us until it gets permission from the companies involved.

We've been waiting for six weeks. And while the government isn't pointing fingers at any brand, consumers are. They're posting on blogs like kitchenaidfire.com , which has dozens of complaints.

"This is a dangerous issue, a serious safety and health concern," says attorney Charles Fax of Maryland.

That's why Fax has filed suit against Whirlpool, a Michigan company which makes KitchenAid, Kenmore, Maytag and Sears' brands.

Fax represents 11 people who say they've had serious damage from fires in dishwashers made by Whirlpool, which has until February 15th to respond to the lawsuit.

Fax's clients not only want compensation, they want a recall because of what they consider a product flaw.

"This design defect in the control unit causes the wires inside to overheat and eventually burn," says Fax.

It is a defect consumers believe exists in Whirlpool machines, which account for about half of the dishwasher complaints on saferproducts.gov. but, consumers have reported fire and smoke in other brands too, including Frigidaire.

While that company doesn't have as many complaints as Whirlpool, fire investigators believe a fire "in or near" a Frigidiare dishwasher killed an elderly woman in Oregon.

Consumers have also complained on saferproducts.gov about Bosch and GE in smaller numbers.

GE is the brand that Ken Logan says caught fire in his house.

"You think, it's got water...how can it catch on fire? It did," says Ken Logan.

That's why Paul Luskey is keeping an eye on the dishwasher he had repaired after a fire.

"We love the dishwasher, we're keeping it. We run it during the day now. I'd just like to have the confidence that it's safe," says Luskey.

Whirlpool says it builds its dishwashers with a component to turn off power in the unlikely event a control board overheats to limit damage. The company says they are investigating complaints brought to their attention and working closely with the appropriate agencies.

GE says product safety is a fundamental commitment. All GE dishwashers meet third- party industry-safety requirements. GE investigates reported safety issues and initiatives corrective action when appropriate.

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