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Keizer Fire District
661 Chemawa Road NE
Keizer, Oregon 97303
PHONE: 503-390-9111
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Recent Fire A Reminder of the Dangers of Oil Soaked Towels

Avamere Court
Avamere Court at Keizer Assisted Living

A recent fire at an assisted living facility has prompted Keizer Fire District officials to remind people of the danger of storing oil soaked cleaning towels in unapproved containers.

The fire started after employees of the facility cleaned the kitchen and placed the towels, used to clean canola oil and grease from cooking equipment, in a plastic container in the laundry room of the facility for washing. The oily towels spontaneously ignited and caused damage to the room and its equipment before being extinguished by the automatic fire sprinkler system. The fire was extinguished quickly and no one was injured in the incident. Fire Marshal Joel Stein said the fire could have easily spread to other parts of the building causing damage and possibly forcing the evacuation of the facility, had the facility not been equipped with an automatic fire sprinkler system.

While many people are aware of the dangers of putting towels or rags used to clean gas and motor oils and linseed oil used to clean up after painting projects; many people are unaware of the dangers of cooking oils found in almost everyone's home as well as restaurants and hospitality facilities.

Naturally occurring oils such as Canola oil, shortening, or oils of vegetable origin produce heat as they dry. The heat generated by this drying process can be considerable and lead to spontaneous combustion of the cleaning towels or rags. The fire can then spread to other combustibles in the room, quickly leading to catastrophic results.

If oil soaked rags can not be washed immediately after use it is recommended people take the following steps to lessen the possibilities of spontaneous combustion:

1. Thoroughly rinse all oil and grease soaked towels with a combination of water and degreaser. Once the water and degreaser have been applied and hand rubbed, rinse the towels under running water to help remove grease.

2.  Wring the towels as dry as possible.

3.  Place the towels in a covered metal container, and close the lid tightly. If the lid is not closed tightly, an uninterrupted flow of oxygen could aid in the spontaneous combustion process. Remember, even towels that have been thoroughly rinsed still could contain residual amounts of oil that could ignite. A tightly sealed metal container is the best defense against spontaneous combustion.

4. Do not tightly pack soiled towels in the storage container. If the towels are tightly  packed, the heat generated from the drying process will not dissipate. If the metal container is full, additional towels should be individually laid flat (nothing above or below them) on a noncombustible surface until completely dry.

5. Terry cloth towels are the most susceptible type of towel to spontaneous combustion. The individual Terry fibers create a massive amount of surface area where the oils can collect. The large amount surface area makes this type of towel much more absorbent, but also makes it much harder to clean oils from the towels after they have been used.

6. If a professional laundry service is being used, they should exchange the cleaning towels two to three times a week.

Following these simple steps, while adding a little time to the clean up process, can prevent tragic fires.

Keizer Fire Dist. - 661 Chemawa Rd NE - Keizer, OR 97303 - Phone: 503-390-9111 | Designed, Developed & Deployed by Project A