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Danger brewing: Investigating potential fire hazards of coffee makers

DANGER BREWING – CAN YOUR COFFEE MAKER CATCH FIRE? The short answer is – it’s unlikely. It’s rare. But it can.

DANGER BREWING – CAN YOUR COFFEE MAKER CATCH FIRE?

The short answer is – it’s unlikely. It’s rare. But it can.

At just 22 years old, with a husband at sea and a baby on the way, the last worry on Shelby Miller’s mind was her coffeemaker catching her kitchen on fire.

In early December, while at work, Miller received a frantic call from a neighbor.

“The person said, ‘Smoke is coming out of your house. Where are you?'” Miller told 7 On Your Side alongside a pier in Norfolk, Virginia.

Only one thing was on her mind.

“I said, ‘My dog’s in there! My dog’s in there!’” Miller said.

The Miller’s dog Burg is a 1-year-old Great Dane. Too big to miss, yet nowhere to be found.

“Firefighters opened the door and black smoke went over my head and my shoes filled with water. So, in my head, I was like, he’s not alive, he was in by himself with no way to get out," Miller said.

Then Norfolk firefighters told Miller what they believed started the blaze that torched her kitchen, washer and dryer, and much of what they’d bought for their newborn – their Keurig K40 coffee-maker.

“It’s just crazy because as long as I can remember, we’ve had a Keurig in the house. My parents’ house, my grandparents’ house, everyone’s house,” Miller said. “It’s something that never dawned on me it would start on fire.”

Millions of Americans trust the brand. When Keurig recalled its mini brewing systems in 2014 because consumers reported water burns, 6.6 million units were affected.

Coffeemaker fires are rare, but they are real.

In the last two years, just 43 consumers reported smoke or fire from various coffee-making machines. We don’t know all of the brands because the Consumer Product Safety Commission redacts that information.

After reviewing public records and media reports from the U.S. to Canada, one consumer in Arlington, Virginia, reported “it all the sudden started smoking” and “was clearly on fire inside the machine.”

Another consumer wrote, “we awoke to our kitchen on fire 3:30 a.m.”

And yet another, “walked in to find coffeemaker on fire with flames coming out of on/off button switch.”

An Alexandria man reported, it “began smoking heavily," before adding “had my wife not unplugged it quickly, it would have caught fire.”

Two teens and a baby were rescued from their Oregon apartment when a coffee-maker caught fire.

And a Massachusetts woman blamed her brewer for a fire that caused $100,000 dollars in damage. She sued the coffeemaker’s manufacturer. Her insurance agent told 7 On Your Side he is not at liberty to discuss the case.

The Millers said their damage cost a few thousand dollars and a lot of stress.

“I went to bed with an easier heart, but still a heavy heart,” said Miller’s mother, Angie Mannel, on a FaceTime call from Nebraska. “I mean prayers were answered because they were not home.”

As for their first baby, Big Burg, he saved himself from the coffeemaker fire by hiding in a bathtub. When Miller was reunited with her dog, neighbors told her the scene looked like a Hollywood movie.

“I bawled,” said Miller. “He seriously is like my best friend. If he wasn’t so big he would go everywhere with me.”

After our interview with Miller, 7 On Your Side asked Keurig

After researching other reported Keurig fires, as well as data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, we understand that this is a rare event; we are wondering if your company can tell us how rare it is for you considering the vast numbers of coffee makers you sell each year?

Are you advising consumers to always unplug their Keurig coffee machines?

Is there any other guidance you can share with consumers to keep them safe while enjoying your popular products?

The company spokeswoman, Katie Gilroy, did not answer our questions directly and declined an on-camera interview. Instead, she provided the following statement:

“At Keurig, the safety and satisfaction of our consumers is our top priority. We design our products with these values in mind and Keurig brewers are manufactured to include thermal protection mechanisms, among a number of safety features. These thermal sensors are designed to cut power to the brewer in the event of a malfunction. In the rare instance when a consumer contacts us with an issue, we request the brewer be returned so that we can conduct a full evaluation.”

According to Keurig, the Millers did not inform them of the fire. A second Keurig spokesman confirmed, “The company has not had an opportunity to review the case or to examine the brewer.”

The couple sent their coffee-maker to their insurance adjuster who paid out their claim right away. They told 7 On Your Side they had not used the coffeemaker in two weeks, but it had been plugged in. Their advice is simple: unplug it, every time.

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