By Amy Wadas

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PENN HILLS (KDKA) — A fire being ignited by hot, oily towels is rare, but the Penn Hills fire marshal says it happens more often than people think.

Surveillance video from inside Soul and Sea Restaurant in Penn Hills shows the owner of the restaurant pulling up to the building, opening the doors to the restaurant and dropping off a laundry bin filled with hot towels fresh from the laundromat and pulling away. Then, the basket starts shooting up in flames.

The end result ended up being a business destroyed by fire.

Assistant Chief with Mt. Lebanon Fire Department Sean Daniels explained to KDKA’s Amy Wadas how something like this can happen.

“It’s when it gets contaminated with other things like hydrocarbon such as gasoline, motor oil or wood free finishing products such as linseed oil or even standard cooking oil can sometimes cause these problems,” said Daniels.

The Penn Hills fire marshal said it didn’t take long for the towels to reach 200 degrees, then smoldered for nearly four hours Wednesday morning. He said the problem was that the towels were saturated with cooking oils which were still hot from being dried minutes before they were dropped off by the restaurant’s owner.

“The oils will break down. Essentially they’re self-heating. As they generate the heat and as the process continues, if that heat cannot dissipate then you will have a problem,” said Daniels.

Daniels suggests buying an air tight metal container with a secure lid to store your contaminated clothes and towels in until you throw them away.

“Everyday laundry is not going to cause any problems. It’s when they have contaminations on them that’s not the usual wear and tear of clothing that you wear throughout the day,” said Daniels.

The fire marshal ruled the fire an accident and said it was officially caused by spontaneous combustion. He says Soul and Sea Restaurant is a total loss, but anticipates the owner being able to reopen in a couple of months. The Penn Hills fire marshal said this type of fire is rare, but it does happen more often than people think.

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