Three minutes to escape: Why house fires are burning faster than ever

Firefighters stress importance of practicing escape plans

Why house fires are burning faster
Why house fires are burning faster

LIVONIA, Mich. – Three minutes. That’s all the time you have to get out of your house if it catches fire.

Three minutes isn’t a lot of time to escape the smoke and flames with loved ones. That has really stuck with us here at Local 4 after a Help Me Hank special report on fire safety.

Firefighters say we had 17 minutes to get out of burning homes 30 years ago, but that has drastically changed.

The reality is most people will never experience a fire, but just in case, experts are sharing this message to try to save lives.

“The time you have to escape is what’s changed,” state fire marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer said.

Sehlmeyer and the Livonia Fire Department found a couple of old couches and proved the materials inside are the problem. The foam, which is now normal in furniture and mattresses and makes them comfortable, burns much faster and hotter.

“It’s not a knock on the furniture industry at all,"Sehlmeyer said.

The fire also consumes oxygen, and Livonia fire Capt. Robert Jennison said that smoke is fuel.

“That smoke is like taking diesel fuel and throwing it up into the air and atomizing it,” Jennison said. “That smoke is continuing to burn. These fires get hotter so much faster.”

Local 4 put a camera inside a shipping container for the second burn. It took just five minutes to fill the container with thick, black smoke. The double container was about the size of a small home.

“It’s down in the living room, but the smoke is pushing all the way to the far end,” Jennison said.

Firefighters aren’t asking you to throw your furniture away, but they want you to know how quickly you have to escape a fire. Most fires start in the living room or kitchen, so your normal exits could be blocked, officials said.

It’s also important to close doors at night to slow the spreading of flames. A video from Underwriter’s Laboratory showed there’s a major difference between a room with a closed door and a room with an open door during a fire.

“If it makes a difference with one family we’ve done our job,” Jennison said. “But hopefully it reaches a lot farther than that.”

Firefighter advised having a safe meeting place outside the home in case of a fire and practicing the escape plan. They suggested setting up drills in the middle of the night when nobody expects it to give the family a better chance to escape a real fire.

You can watch Nick Monacelli’s full story in the video posted above.

About the Authors:

Nick joined the Local 4 team in February of 2015. Prior to that he spent 6 years in Sacramento covering a long list of big stories including wildfires and earthquakes. Raised in Sterling Heights, he is no stranger to the deep history and pride Detroit has to offer.

Derick is a Senior Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.