Posted on 01/12/2015 in News 32 2015
minutes to get out

A page of videos and animation by the New York Times (sponsored by Nest Protect fire alarms) shows why fires have become so much more dangerous in modern homes. A three minute video shows how rapidly a house became a burning inferno when fire started in a space heater in a family’s home (23 Feb. 2015).

The family (and dog) were saved by the sounding of smoke alarms.

Headlines are:

  • “3 minutes: the average time a family has to get out of their home”
  • “6 minutes: the average time it takes firefighters to arrive”
  • “Modern homes burn 8 times faster than they did 30 years ago”
  • “Fires today burn hotter and faster. Thirty years ago, you had roughly 17 minutes to get out of your home … today that 17 minutes is down to three or four” (John Drengenberg, Consumer Safety Director Underwriters Laboratories)
  • “It used to be that the rule was a fire in a home would double its size every two minutes. Because of the new materials, that’s a lot quicker now.”
  • “Given that our homes are literally flammable, fire prevention and awareness have never been more important” (Lorraine Carli, vice president of outreach and advocacy at the National Fire Protection Association NFPA)
  • “Smoke is more dangerous than ever. Modern households are filled with more synthetic materials … so smoke is often tainted with toxins such as hydrogen cyanide, phosgene and carbon monoxide.”


Causes of faster fires are identified as increased content of synthetic materials, larger houses with open floorplans (no barriers to fire spread, faster airflow and oxygen to feed fires). A traditional and a modern upholstered chair are compared, with the former reaching peak heat release after 15 minutes, the latter after only around 4 minutes.

Barry Brinckey, Kingsport Fire Department, shows full-scale fire tests of furnished rooms using older (natural materials) and modern furnishings (synthetic materials). In the modern materials room, “after about 30 seconds, the temperatures get higher and higher. We see lots of smoke, temperatures reach hundreds of degrees whereas in the older home room the fire is not blazing much at all.

An animated graph explains the different stages of development and heat release rate of a modern fire over time (ignition, growth, fully developed, flashover, decay).

UL Underwriters Laboratories “Modern residential fires: UL determined that fires today are more dangerous and pose more risks than in the past. Fire propagation is faster, and time to flashover, escape times and collapse times are all shorter …”

New York Times “In a flash: how modern homes are fuelling faster fires”

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