New homes, furniture contain major fire hazards - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

New homes, furniture contain major fire hazards

The Cape Girardeau Fire Chief says modern furniture burns faster and hotter. The Cape Girardeau Fire Chief says modern furniture burns faster and hotter.
CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - According to the National Fire Protection Association, 92 percent of all structure fire deaths result from home fires.

However, these days firefighters are battling a whole new breed of house fires.

According to the Cape Girardeau Fire Chief Rick Ennis, house fires are more dangerous because they tend to burn hotter and faster.

One of the main contributing factors are newer home furnishings.

"Modern day furniture because of what it is made of, petroleum based products, they tend to burn faster and release heat quicker," Ennis said.

A couch made out of synthetic materials is the perfect example.

"We like to say you're sitting on comfortable gasoline," Ennis said.

Essentially, things that aren't made of legacy materials like wood, cotton and wool burn slower.

However, things like your comfy couch, veneer tables and your TV are fuel for a fire.

KFVS along with the Cape Girardeau Fire Department put that to test.

We used two different couches. Couch 1 was covered in more legacy materials, however, the cushions inside were still petroleum based. 
Couch 2 was more modern and all synthetic.

While both couches took about seven minutes to become engulfed; you could see a difference between the two burns.

Watch the video here.

"The smoke was churning out more aggressively than it was in the last fire because the amount of heat was much higher," Ennis said.

The problem is that the heat will then spread faster.

"If this room was full of other furniture that heat would obviously radiated over and caught the other materials on fire much quicker," Ennis said.

That fact poses as a real threat for homeowners.

"The time to escape a fire has shortened up tremendously," Ennis said.

It's not just your furniture that is putting newer homes at risk.

Ennis said it is a deadly combination of lightweight construction and open floor plans that feed a fire oxygen.

According to UL, an independent safety science company, house fires burn eight times faster than they did 50 years ago.

A recent test by the company shows it takes 30 minutes for a room full of decades-old furniture to fully burn, but only three minutes for a more modern room.

"While there are benefits of the furnishings that we are using and the big spacey open floor plan in the houses that we are building, there are also built in hazards to that and we have to look at a better way to meet the hazard that we are creating in this desirable built environment," Ennis said.

As time progresses, Ennis believes even a smoke alarm will start to lose its effectiveness because it won't alert you with enough time to get out of your home.

That is why Ennis believes home sprinkler systems might be the solution.

"A fire actually should be measured from the time it ignites to the time water is put on it," Ennis said. "So when you look at that the fire department at best can get water on the fire 10 to 15 minutes after it ignites, where as a sprinkler head can put water on the fire with in one to two minutes."

The NFPA reports a smoke alarm cuts the risk of dying in a house fire by about one third. However, an automatic fire sprinkler system cuts that risk by about 80 percent.

But in 2009, less than 5 percent of houses in the U.S. actually had sprinklers.

Both Missouri and Illinois state law leave it up to the homeowner to decide if they want a fire sprinkler system.

However, in 2013, there was a push in Illinois to make it a requirement in new homes. That legislation, though was shot down.

Ennis said if sprinklers are not an option, homeowners should have a concrete fire safety plan and working smoke alarms.

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