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Local family warns of dryer fire dangers on two-year anniversary of teen’s death

HARRISONVILLE, Mo. -- One of the most common causes of household fires might be lurking in your laundry room.

A metro family learned that the hard way after losing a 16-year-old girl two years ago when her home's clothing dryer caught fire.

You probably know every time you do a load of laundry, you should clean out the lint trap. But you might not realize the tubing that runs from your dryer to the outside of your home should also be cleaned out regularly to prevent fires.

A winter night in 2017 changed one family's lives forever. Sixteen-year-old Saylor Johnson was killed when her family's Harrisonville house caught fire.

"It was devastating," said Betty Simmons, Saylor's step-grandma.

Initially, investigators said the fire's cause was undetermined. But the family later learned their tragedy was sparked by laundry.

"A teenager, you worry about getting in a car accident or all those kinds of things. A clothes dryer is the absolute last thing you'd ever think about," said Larry Johnson, Saylor's grandpa.

Since then, the Johnsons have learned a lot about dryer fires.

It turns out, weeks before the fire, Saylor's family had noticed the dryer was taking several cycles to dry clothes and the machine was hot to the touch. Those are two tell-tale signs your dryer vent is clogged and in dire need of attention.

"Shock is one thing. But you really get kind of angry when you find out what happened. This was so severe that it had been neglected for a really long time," Larry Johnson said.

Harold Bert cleans dryers for a living and said he sees clogged and neglected vents all the time.

"Most customers are way beyond where they should be for the cleaning," said Bert with Dryer Vent Wizard.

When a vent isn't cleaned at least once every couple years, lint piles up inside. It cuts off the air flow going out, and with wads of highly flammable lint backed up, a fire becomes almost inevitable.

Making matters worse, most homes have the wrong kind of tubing running from the dryer to the outside vent. While it looks metal, it's actually a more flammable plastic. Dryer manufacturers even warn not to use such tubing on the back of the machine.

"If you have a fire in the dryer, it would actually accelerate the fire," Bert said.

Saylor's grandparents work in real estate and have dozens of rental homes. They've worked to educate Kansas City-area home inspectors to check dryer vents to keep homeowners safe. They share Saylor's story on social media and tell anyone who will listen, to get their dryer vents cleaned and to install the right kind of tubing with as few 90-degree bends as possible.

"We can't bring her back, but if we can save other people's lives, it'll be worth it," Simmons said.

Another simple safety tip is to clean that lint trap out with soap and water every few months, which helps prevent the build up that can lead to fires.

Experts also advise against have a cage surrounding the outside vent. These devices are even more susceptible to collecting lint.

You should also never run the clothing dryer at night or when you're not at home.

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