The 3-Minute Home Fire Warning

Fire’s threat to families has never burned hotter or faster.

Call it the Three-Minute Fire Warning.

That’s the average amount fire experts say the typical family has to safely evacuate their home and escape a house fire, according to a January 14, 2016 Rossen Reports investigative special on NBC’s Today Show. Fire is engulfing America’s homes faster than ever. Thirty years ago, the average home evacuation time was 17 minutes. Today, fires can go from inception to flashpoint in less than 15 minutes.

The major reason behind fire’s ability to close in on families and consume homes faster: Today’s mostly synthetic-based furniture.

“Today’s furniture burns faster, meaning you and your family have less time to escape,” NBC national investigative reporter Jeff Rossen reported in his special.

Fire follows the laws of physics not style trends. But the physics of today’s furniture make them more naturally more fire-prone.

Yesterday’s common household furniture — couches, chairs, kitchen and coffee tables, beds, etc. — were largely constructed out of wood and natural fibers, which burn slowly. Yesterday’s homes, also called legacy homes by fire experts, typically burned from inception to flashpoint in 30 minutes.

Today’s synthetic-blend furniture burn much hotter and faster than natural materials do. And with today’s furniture burning five times as faster than the stylistically-challenged but much more fire-resident furniture of the 1970s, families have no time to race to save family keepsakes and sentimental items when flames invade their home.

Remember, your home’s fire clock is already ticking at under three minutes when your smoke alarm goes off.

“When your smoke alarm goes off you don’t have time to look around, get your wedding pictures,” said John Drengenburg of Underwriter Laboratories. “You get out as quickly as you can.”

Another major migrating factor leading to today’s homes burning faster than yesterdays is bigger homes. Today’s homes are larger with more open space and engineered space, and have additional synthetic materials like kids’ toys. Today’s homes also have less drywall and Sheetrock to act as fire barriers.

Add it all up and you get a recipe for fast-moving home fires. Compounding the problem: Most families believe they have twice or three times as much time to escape a house fire than they actually do. An American Red Cross survey found 62 percent of Americans believe they have five minutes to escape a house fire and 18 incorrectly believe they have as much as 10 minutes.

The good news: According to UL research, the number of fires has decreased by 53 percent since the late 1970s. The more sobering statistic: The number of traumatic deaths per 100,000 fires jumped from 1.8 per 100,000 fires in the late 1970s to 3 per 100,000 fires by the late 2000s.

Understanding modern fire behavior can save the lives of your family. Fire experts recommend every family have a fire escape plan.

Here the American Red Cross’ Family Fire Escape Plan Recommendations:

  • Most essentially, have both working smoke and carbon dioxide detectors in every sleeping room, outside each sleeping area and on every level of your home.
  • Everyone in your household should know two ways to escape from each room in your home.
  • Decide where to meet once you get outside.
  • If a fire starts, you may have just two-three minutes to get to safety. So time your fire drills and find out: what’s your escape time?
  • Smoke is dangerous. Practice low crawling.
  • Teach household members what to do if their clothes catch fire: stop, drop and roll.
  • If a fire starts in your home, get out to safety, then dial 911 or call your fire department’s emergency phone number.

Having a home fire escape plan is essential to survival when your family wakes up to the nightmare of their home in flames. Stephen Davis, of Tuscon, Ariz., knows firsthand the importance of knowing what to do when fire invades. His home went up in flames, and a smart home fire escape plan kept his family alive and quickly on their way to safety.

“When you’re not prepared, you have no idea what’s going on,” Davis told redcross.org. “You’re not fully awake. All you know is ‘I need to get out of here because I can’t breathe’.”

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