Fund set up for The Willow employees

Restaurant fire linked to spontaneous combustion of cotton towels

By Jennifer Woods -

Relief funding for The Willow employees continues to grow after spontaneous combustion of cotton towels in a laundry bag caused a fire at the popular local restaurant.

The Willow caught fire on Sunday, July 14 when the restaurant was closed. There were no injuries reported although the damage was extensive, causing the restaurant to be closed until further notice.

Employees of the restaurant are being assisted through a relief fund run by donations.

Checks, cash and money orders are being accepted for donations and can be dropped off at local Huntington Banks. They must be payable to: The Willow Employee Relief Fund. The memo section: Huntington Account Ending #10863.

Information on this fund can be found in an online flyer on the “The Willow Restaurant” Facebook page which states, “All donations will directly benefit the staff, as they strive to maintain a sense of normalcy for their families during this trying time.”

Questions regarding the fund can be emailed to Ryan Combs at

It was previously reported that Washington Fire Department Chief Tim Downing said the fire appeared to be accidental.

Initially, the fire was linked to the laundry area of the building and Downing asked for the community to make sure their dryers are cleaned of lint on a regular basis as this tends to be a common factor in fires.

Investigations have been completed and after watching security footage, Downing said the fire has now been linked to cotton towels that were placed in a laundry bag after being washed and dried.

According to Downing, grease or natural oils on towels will remain in the material even when washed adequately. The oils decompose through a process that causes a chemical reaction—Thermal Runaway.

As the oil decomposed more heat would have been released. Since the towels had been placed into a laundry bag, as the grease decomposed the heat being released had no way to “dissipate,” leading to the combustion, according to Downing.

Various online sources explain this is not only possible but also a common phenomenon in some locations. Leftover oil residues can also cause fires when the materials containing the residue are inside the dryer.

Safety tips include disposing of cloths that are heavily saturated with oil or grease and air-drying cloths exposed to oil or grease. Once those cloths have been washed, avoid placing them in locations where the heat cannot escape—in laundry baskets, laundry bags, piles of clothes, areas with low ventilation, etc.

Downing explained the cloths with oil residue he uses in his own home are hung outside to allow the oils to decompose before he washes them as an extra precaution.

There are tips for cleaning greasy kitchen towels on Some of these tips include using disposable paper towels to clean up grease and grease splatter. Other tips include using old towels for clean-up so they can be disposed of if necessary and keeping greasy towels separate from other laundry as grease stains are easily transferred to other fabrics.

Downing said he was grateful to hear from residents that they’ve recently cleaned the lint out of their dryers following a previous Record-Herald article and he hopes residents will continue to be cautious.

Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 Woods | Record-Herald file photo
Restaurant fire linked to spontaneous combustion of cotton towels

By Jennifer Woods