SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – Nowadays, fewer homes catch fire than in the past. However, when they do, they burn hotter, faster and more dangerously than ever before. Modern structure fires burn eight times faster than fires in the past few decades.
Brady George, Battalion Chief for Salt Lake City Fire Department says, "What we’re finding is not so much that the fire itself has changed, it’s still the same complex chemical reaction, but the environment has changed significantly."
George continues to explain that the size of an average home has increased about 56% since the 1970s. In addition to that, there have been major changes to the way modern homes are constructed. In fact, George adds that the construction of two story homes has increased 142% in the last few decades, and open concept floor-plans have also seen a major spike in popularity.
“This creates an environment inside where the fire has much more space to grow," he explains.
The size and layout of homes are not the only factors. One of the largest components to the spread of modern fires is the fuel that now exists inside our homes.
“We’ve transitioned away from primarily organic materials, meaning wood, cotton, wool, furs, to much more synthetic or man-made materials," George says, “…These modern fuels have two to three times the amount of energy as their legacy counterparts.”
During a study by Underwriter Laboratories, two rooms were set ablaze and compared in a controlled setting. One is an environment filled with natural materials, like cotton and wood. The other shows an environment made primarily from synthetic materials. It takes three minutes and forty seconds for the room made of synthetic materials to become completely engulfed in flames — this is called flashover. The room made of natural materials, on the other hand, takes nearly 30 minutes for flashover to occur.
So why do we have these synthetic materials in our homes? Well, they’re much less costly than natural materials.
Battalion Chief Brady George has some tips to protect all of us from these modern fire hazards. The first is to always make sure you close the doors inside your home. Another tip is to make sure your smoke detectors are working and tested twice a year. To learn more about that, click here.
George adds, “Another, perhaps less palatable option, is to simply put less stuff in your home."
According to underwriters laboratories, we had about 17 minutes to escape after a smoke alarm went off in the past. Today, they say that time has dropped down to three to four minutes. To learn more about the close your door movement, click here.