ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — There are 385,000 house fires reported in the United States every year.

Approximately 3,000 of those fires are started by clothes dryers.

That is why local officials are warning residents about the dangers of dryer fires and reminding the public that they are usually preventable.

“When we look at what causes a full dryer fire, we see that a failure to clean the lint and maintain it accounts for about 34% of those fires,” said Matt Knott, the Rockford Fire Department’s division chief of administration and fire prevention.

Fire experts recommend cleaning dryers at least once a year, removing lint and debris from lint traps, vent hoses, and areas underneath the machine.

Loves Park Fire Department Battalion Chief Ryan Evans said a dryer can be cleaned with just about any vacuum, many of which come with special attachments to get deep into the trap and hard-to-reach areas where flammable material can collect.

And whether a cleaning takes 10 minutes or an hour, Evans says it’s time well spent to prevent a potential disaster.

“The buildup of that material could start on fire and spread real quick,” Evans said, adding that loose parts can also be a hazard.

Eyewitness News anchor Whitney Martin found that out for herself Tuesday night when she put clothes in her dryer and later noticed the faint smell of something burning.

When she went to her laundry room to investigate, Martin noticed flames coming from between her washer and dryer. Thankfully, she was able to put the blaze out with a fire extinguisher.

Firefighters who responded to Martin’s 911 call said the fire occurred when the vent hose separated from the back of the dryer.

“This was totally unexpected,” Martin said. “I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Moral of the story: Never turn the dryer on before sleeping. I’m grateful this wasn’t so much worse.”

Evans said it is important, especially on gas dryers, to make sure vent hoses are securely connected. A loose hose could also cause harmful gases like carbon monoxide to leak into a house instead of being blown outside.

Dryer fires are responsible for about $35 million in property damage and five fatalities in the United States each year.

“Luckily, a lot of them are small and are caught early,” Knott said.

For more information about dryer fires and how to prevent them, visit the United States Fire Administration, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).