Fire dangers in refrigerators prompt recalls for some, not all

A possible fire danger may be lurking in your kitchen.

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The issue surrounds the recall of more than one million Maytag refrigerators.

But now, ABC 7 discovered the potentially faulty part was installed in millions of Whirlpools that were never recalled. Whirlpool owns Maytag, but hasn't expanded last year's recall beyond the Maytag products.

ABC 7 obtained a stack of complaints filed with the Consumer Product Safety Commission telling the same story: Whirlpool made refrigerators that "actually caught fire" or where "flames erupted" and kitchens "filled with smoke."

Each complaint was blamed on a faulty compressor relay.

But according to CPSC records, Whirlpool knew of the problem back in 2005.

Three years later, Whirlpool had received at least 114 reports of relay failures causing smoldering, and confirmed 59 cases where floors were scorched

But documents show the manufacturer told the CPSC it did not intend to warn customers. And Whirlpool is currently suing the relay's maker, calling the part defective.

Whirlpool says while the relay may mirror those of the recalled Maytag refrigerators, the Whirlpool design stops a fire like this from spreading beyond the refrigerator.

Whirlpool has not released a complete list of models with the suspect parts, however, the documents we've obtained give a range between January 2000 and as late as 2004.

If you see smoke coming from the rear bottom of the refrigerator, unplug it. Call the manufacturer and alert the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

While each model of refrigerator is different, to locate the manufacture date on a Whirlpool, appliance411.com has a handy tool that helps you find the likely location.

The site also has a handy search feature to find out how old your refrigerator is.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued the following statement regarding ABC 7's story:

"Refrigerator fires can be quite serious and CPSC has a track record of seeking recalls for units that can pose a fire risk to consumers. Although the recall was announced in 2009, CPSC would still urge consumers with Maytag refrigerators to check our website to see if they have one of the 1.6 million recalled units, as a free repair is still available. CPSC staff evaluate consumer product incidents on a case-by-case basis and we never completely close door on a case. If a consumer has a fire or an incident with their refrigerator they should not only tell the manufacturer, but they should report to CPSC as well. Starting in March 2011, CPSC will launch a new website and database where consumers can report incidents online and search online for reports of similar incidents experienced by other consumers. Our SaferProducts.gov site will make incident information more accessible to consumers and will make consumers more informed about the safety of the products in their home or that they are considering purchasing."

--Scott Wolfson/CPSC Spokesman

Also here are both statements from Whirlpool

"While the compressor start relay component in the Whirlpool Corporation manufactured Kenmore and Whirlpool brand refrigerators may mirror those of the recalled Maytag refrigerators, the consequences of a failed relay are different. The Whirlpool and Kenmore brand refrigerator design essentially eliminates the consequences of a relay failure beyond the product."

Jill Saletta, Director, External Communications, Whirlpool Corporation

Whirlpool also provided the following statement regarding the recall of Maytag Refrigerators:

Thank you for your inquiry; please be assured that consumer safety and satisfaction are top priorities for Maytag Corporation.

In 2009, Maytag Corporation, in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Health Canada, announced a voluntary product recall of certain Maytag®, Jenn-Air®, Amana®, Admiral®, Magic Chef®, Performa by Maytag® and Crosley® brand side by side and top freezer refrigerators. An electrical failure in the refrigerator compressor's start relay component can cause the relay to pose a potential fire hazard. As with all concerns regarding our products, we continue to monitor the situation.

In the case of the recalled refrigerators - first announced on March 10, 2009 - there have been cases in which the relays in the refrigerators had a failure that was not contained by the refrigerator.

The repair kit for the recalled refrigerators, approved by CPSC and Whirlpool Corporation, is designed to reduce failures and contain a failure if it occurs.

In the case of any concern about our products, we strongly encourage consumers to contact our Customer Experience Centers at 866-533-9817 for personal assistance and support.

Please visit the Maytag recall web site at www.repair.maytag.com or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website at www.cpsc.gov for more information.

Jill Saletta, Director, External Communications, Whirlpool Corporation

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