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Case 1

How this fire happened

Restaurant routines include a thorough clean of the basement kitchen each Sunday. On the night of the fire, the kitchen had been cleaned, appliances unplugged and the laundry washed and dried.

Before leaving the premises for the night, the cotton laundry was folded and stacked straight from the tumble drier in to plastic baskets.

During the night the hot moist laundry in the stack and the oil residue started to self-heat (resulting from an exothermic reaction within the material) due to continued oxidation.

When the fabrics reached auto-ignition temperature, the materials ignited without the application of an external heat source, commonly described as ‘spontaneous combustion’.

The fire was discovered by the cleaner at 0600 hours, the time the fire started is unknown.


However, the fire safety features in the basement meant that the fire was contained by two parallel fire doors which also limited smoke damage to the rest of the business.

The effect it had

"Our business had to be closed for full kitchen refit for 4 months.


This has had a huge impact on our staff, business development, business profile and customer loyalty."

Case 2

Safety message​

  • Make sure wash temperatures and detergents are suitable for the optimum removal of oil based contaminants

  • Allow laundry to complete the cooling cycle in the tumble dryer

  • Shake out laundry to ventilate before folding or place garments on hangers

  • Make sure stack or pile is well ventilated

  • Test your smoke alarm regularly

  • Remove laundry from the tumble dryer before completing the cooling cycle

  • Place warm, damp laundry in polythene bags or plastic containers/baskets or in poorly ventilated areas

  • Leave freshly laundered fabrics stacked overnight. 

How this fire happened


Towards the end of the working day, staff at this commercial laundry had washed and dried clothes and cloths from one of their clients at a pub with a restaurant attached.

Having removed the clean laundry from the tumble dryer, they loaded it into a bin liner and placed it in a plastic laundry basket before leaving for the day.

Shortly after, the occupant of an upstairs flat discovered the fire, alerted the fire service and was fortunately able to escape safely.

Fire investigators ruled out a number of ignition sources, including gas, electricity, friction, smoking and sunlight.


On questioning the laundry staff, it became clear that the clean laundry in the bin liner had not been allowed to cool and was the most likely cause.

Cotton laundry such as chefs' whites, aprons, tea towels and cloths are often contaminated with organic cooking oils that can auto-ignite if dried and stored without allowing sufficient time to cool in the tumble dryer.

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