Fast Flames: House fires now burning faster than before

(NEWSCHANNEL 3) - You may think your home is becoming safer thanks to modern technology, but there may be items inside your home that are actually making it more dangerous.

The warning sound of a smoke detector is a critical part of the story behind what saved an Allegan County family from a fire at their Martin home, but it is only part of the story.

There, the family's two children climbed out a window, dropped onto the roof and over the porch before shimmying down a bush to get help from their grandfather next door.

The grandfather got out a ladder to save the parents.

"We had on multiple occasions discussed what to do in the event of a fire," the father told Newschannel 3 via email. "The plan we ended up using was our secondary escape plan, planning ahead can make a critical difference. When something like that happens you only have moments to make all the right decisions."

Working smoke detectors and an escape plan are not new, but firefighters tell Newschannel 3 they are more important now than ever.

"Today's furniture burns much faster, much hotter than old furniture," said Comstock Township Fire Chief Ed Switalski.

Firefighters set up a test to help Newschannel 3 show you that fires are becoming more dangerous.

Using a vacant home, we worked with firefighters in Comstock and Oshtemo Townships. They furnished two bedrooms and firefighters started a fire outside those rooms. Inside we set up cameras so we could see the fire as it happened.

You didn't have to be inside the home to understand the danger, after the fire started the first evidence outside is smoke. Firefighters say what the smoke looked like is very important.

"It looks like smoke you can find if you burned paper over a can of diesel fuel, it's just solid gasoline," said Oshtemo Township Captain Chip Everett. "It's black, thick, nasty for you, unsurviveable."

Inside the house our cameras picked up the smoke detector going off when the fire started, and it didn't take long for the inside view to be gone as that thick, black, nasty smoke blocked the view.

Firefighters say the fuel for that potentially deadly smoke is the furniture in the rooms, similar materials are likely in your home right now.

"Synthetic materials are petroleum based," said Capt. Everett, "gasoline is petroleum based, so the smoke we are getting from the materials, they're made from a petroleum origin."

Comstock Fire Chief Switalski added, "Most people in home fatalities die from smoke inhalation, not burns, and it is that thick, dark smoke that we saw."

Since it's not like that we are all going to change the furniture in our homes, what can we do?

Firefighters say you should use smoke detectors that are no older than ten years, preferably interconnected so they go off all over the house. They need to be in each bedroom and common areas. Plus, families need to discuss and practice an escape plan before a fire ever happens.

Fire agency after fire agency told Newschannel 3 that there is no question that fires are burning faster than they used to, cutting into firefighter response times, which is why working smoke detectors are so critical, to give you time to escape.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, seven people die every day from a house fire in the United States and 92 percent of all structure fire deaths are the result of house fires.

Tonight at 11:00 pm Newschannel 3 will have more from firefighters, talking about what you should and should not be doing in case a fire ever happens at your home. They say the very important mistake that many are making, is also very easy to fix.

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