OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Ken and Dolores Logan are hoping to move back into their Overland Park home in April or May. Since Thanksgiving Day, 2011, they've been staying at a hotel. Not due to a remodeling project, but because an early-morning fire damaged their house after Ken and Dolores say their dishwasher caught fire.
The Logans are not alone. An NBC Action News investigation found consumers across the country say their dishwasher didn't clean their dishes but damaged their kitchens. And consumers we talked to who've had problems are demanding action.
Flames Force Overland Park Couple from Home
On Thanksgiving Day it was firefighters–not family–who arrived at Ken and Dolores Logan's home in Overland Park. Dolores heard the smoke alarm and went downstairs to find out what was wrong.
"[Dolores] saw the smoke coming out of the kitchen along with flames out of the dishwasher," said Ken. "I saw the flames and smoke so I got on the phone and dialed 911."
The Logans are not alone in their close call in the kitchen. Homeowners we talked to across the country had similar stories.
Karin Peterson in Littleton, Colorado also had a dishwasher fire in her kitchen. She said she saw flames "probably 10 to 12 inches high."
Michael Hayden lives in Northern Kentucky and experienced a similar fire. "The flames shooting out the side of it looked like what you see from a benzene torch," he said.
Fire investigation reports we obtained don't zero in on a cause, but they do show a potential problem with homeowners and some investigators blaming dishwasher fires for the damage and even a death at a home in Oregon.
Our investigation found fires in dishwashers in almost every state including Maryland where the smell of burning plastic woke Paul Luskey and his wife in Columbia. A fire in their dishwasher didn't destroy the couple's kitchen, but photos taken of a scorched control panel show what could have happened.
"It's serious. People may not have heard," said Luskey.
But the federal government is aware.
Between March and November 2011 more than 260 complaints related to dishwasher incidents were logged with saferproducts.gov , a public website run by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of those complaints, 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 1,600 reported problems with dishwashers in the last five years. And 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.
But when we asked what brands are mentioned in those cases, the CPSC said it won't tell NBC Action News until it gets permission from the companies involved. As of the publication of this report, we've been waiting six weeks.
While the government isn't pointing fingers at any brand, consumers are. They're posting on blogs like kitchenaidfire.com which lists dozens of complaints.
Bethesda, Maryland attorney Charles Fax said, "This is a dangerous issue, a serious safety and health concern."
That's why Fax filed a lawsuit against Whirlpool, a Michigan company that makes KitchenAid, Kenmore and Maytag brands at a plant in Findlay, Ohio.
Fax represents 11 people who say they've had serious damage from fires in dishwashers made by Whirlpool. Whirlpool has until February 15, 2012 to respond to the lawsuit.
Fax's clients want more than 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," Fax alleged.
It's a defect some 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 Frigidaire doesn't have as many complaints as Whirlpool, fire investigators believe a fire "in or near" a Frigidaire 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 Ken Logan says caught fire in his Overland Park house after his wife set the timer for the dishwasher to start during the night. "There's nothing left of the door," he said. "You think it's got water; how can it catch on fire? It did."
Paul Luskey said he plans to keep an eye on the dishwasher he had repaired after a fire. "We love the dishwasher and we're keeping it," said Luskey. "We run it during the day now. I'd just like to have the confidence that it's safe."
In response to our investigation, Whirlpool released the following statement:
"Whirlpool Corporation builds its dishwashers with, among many other state-of-the-art safety features, components that turn off power to the electronic control board in the extremely unlikely event that the control board begins to overheat. The safety features are designed to limit potential