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Self-starting microwave ovens suspected of starting fires

January 31, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
When you buy a kitchen appliance, you would like to assume it's safe. However, government documents show there are an estimated 147,000 appliance fires every year. Many are the result of human error. But a new Consumer Reports investigation reveals some are caused by the appliances themselves.

The Queen Anne High School Condominiums are in a lovely landmarked building. But tenant Joe Lyons is afraid for his safety. The condo board says he's one of 10 residents who have reported KitchenAid microwaves that have started on their own, and in at least one case caused electrical arcing. A fire in a Florida home was started in a microwave that was not in use, according to the official fire report.

Both incidents, reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, involved the same microwave: KitchenAid model KHMS155LSS. Consumer Reports looked at thousands of pages of CPSC documents in its investigation of appliance fires, including many obtained through its Freedom Of Information Act requests.

"Forty-one of the CPSC reports involved KitchenAid microwaves that turned on by themselves, some causing fires," said Consumer Reports Senior Editor Dan DiClerico.

Consumer Reports also examined 82 similar reports involving some GE microwaves, six of which involved serious fires.

"The reports listed various models, but 30 complaints involved the GE Spacemaker line of over-the-range microwave," said DiClerico.

None of those microwaves has been recalled. And the problem is not limited to these two manufacturers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission told Consumer Reports it has "an open investigation into the safety of kitchen appliances, including microwaves."

If you have a problem with your microwave, unplug it and get a technician to look at it. And it's a good idea to know which circuit breaker turns off the microwave in case of an emergency.

Whirlpool, which owns KitchenAid, says it has not been able to verify a single report of a self-starting microwave.

GE told Consumer Reports that it "has investigated unverified reports of 'self-start' and found them to constitute product quality, not product safety concerns. Many have been determined not to be 'self-starts' at all."

If you're experiencing a problem with any appliance, Consumer Reports says you should notify the manufacturer immediately, and report the problem to SaferProducts.gov.


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