Justina Page knows just how fast fire can spread. Her Houston home caught fire in the middle of the night. She suffered third-degree burns over 55 percent of her body, all six of her children were burned and her 22-month-old son Amos died in the blaze.
“I hear myself screaming for a child I will never hold again,” Page said.
That was 15 years ago and you might think today’s homes would be more resistant to fire, would burn slower and be more fireproof. But you would be wrong.
Groundbreaking research by Underwriters Laboratories is now proving that today’s modern homes actually burn eight times, or 800 percent, faster than the homes most of us grew up in.
UL researchers describe it as a perfect storm of conditions including new, lightweight, manufactured woods and homes loaded with synthetic materials like polyester and polyurethane, which are making our homes burn faster and hotter.
UL did side-by-side testing, setting fires in two identical rooms — one filled with old, legacy furniture and the other filled with modern furniture. They set fires in each room and started a stopwatch.
At just over two minutes into the test, the legacy room fire was still very small, but the modern room had huge flames. Then at just 3 minutes 15 seconds, the modern room flashed over with fire. The legacy room did not flash over until close to 30 minutes.
Today, many homebuilders use lightweight manufactured wood. This wood, UL said, is stronger, lighter and less expensive then solid wood, but in fire conditions UL said it burns faster and comes apart faster.
Working with instructors at Lone Star College, at the school’s Fire Training Academy in CyFair, Local 2 Investigates set up a simple test. We set a fire beneath a standard, solid wood beam and a lightweight, manufactured wood beam and it did not take long to see the difference.
At 4 minutes 30 seconds the manufactured wood beam failed and fell apart, sending the heavy brick blocks we had stacked on top of it tumbling to the ground.
Meanwhile, the solid wood beam blackened and formed fissures but held together for more than 26 minutes.
All of which, firefighters said, means that in today’s homes it is more important to get your family out of a burning house faster than ever before.
“You literally have less than two minutes to get your family out in some cases,” a firefighter said. “A fire can go from the initial stages, very small, to what we call flashover in two to three minutes.”
Firefighters said the best way to protect your family is buy an automatic fire sprinkler system for your home. It can put a fire out before it gets a chance to grow, sometimes in less than a minute, according to fire experts Local 2 Investigates spoke to.
Smoke detectors on every floor of your home are also a must, and fire experts said you should have a fire plan for getting out and that you practice with your children.