How Your Junk Drawer Could Set Your House on Fire

An organized junk drawer could keep your house from burning down. (Photo: Thinkstock)We all know we should clean out our junk drawers, but the real reason has nothing to do with getting organized. A 9 volt battery in a messy junk drawer is being blamed for a recent house fire in Amherst, New Hampshire, and the state's fire marshal is warning people to take a good look at the stuff they stash away.

"The potential is there," Londonderry, New Hampshire, Fire Chief Kevin MacCaffrie told CBS News in Boston. "There are a lot of things in a normal junk drawer that do burn, and apparently the ignition source was a 9 volt battery."

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The battery that sparked the Amherst house fire had been stored in the kitchen junk drawer inside a plastic bag filled with other batteries, the fire marshal's office said in a statement.

"The 9 volt battery rubbed against another battery and ignited the fire," the statement read. The fire spread to Post-It Notes, paper, and other flammable items in the drawer and "produced smoke throughout the first floor of the home."

The drawer, which the homeowner said had just been reorganized, also contained spare keys, a cigarette lighter, paper clips, and eye glass cleaner "along with everything else that you find in a 'junk' drawer," the fire marshal's office said.

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When it comes to those regular, rectangular 9 volt batteries, the problem is that both the positive and the negative contact points are on the same end. If those contact points touch a paper clip, a key, or the clip on a pen, it can generate heat; leave it there long enough and it could start a fire.

MacCafferie demonstrated how a paper clip touching the contact points of a 9 volt battery could scorch a square of tissue in minutes. A wad of steel wool glowed orange and set paper on fire in just seconds when it rubbed up against a 9 volt battery.

In this case, the homeowners didn't lose everything -- "We were fortunate not have been away for the weekend," they told the fire department, which did not release their names -- but their experience has led fire officials around the country to issue junk drawer warnings. And, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department, there are several other typical household items that can turn into fire hazards:

  • Electrical outlets, when overloaded with extension cords
  • Lithium batteries, when stored in the same place as clothing
  • Clothes dryers, when too much lint gets caught in the vent or filter
  • Space heaters, when placed too close to curtains, sheets, or other flammable materials
  • Overheated laptop computers, when left on soft surfaces (like a bed or a tablecloth)
  • Extra gasoline cans, when stored near dirty rags in the garage
  • Fireplaces, when there is too much soot build-up

And if you must store your batteries in your junk drawer, officials at several different fire departments told Yahoo! Shine that the best way to prevent them from sparking a fire is to wrap the ends in electrical tape or keep them in their original packages.

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