Special Report: Furniture causes faster fires

Special Report: Furniture causes faster fires

OPELIKA, AL (WTVM) - A few special conditions can spread a house fire, and the Opelika Fire Department to demonstrate how fire and your home furniture can easily ignite into a deadly combination.

The statistics are startling. Every 24 seconds, a fire department responds to a fire call here in the United States.
In 2014, there were nearly 1.3 million structure fires, leading to 3,275 deaths and $11.5 billion in property damage. Fire experts say when you're sitting on your comfortable home sofa, you are sitting on the equivalent of foam gasoline.

Newer, modern sofas and furnishings are compared to gasoline because they burn much faster than legacy materials such as wood and cotton. Synthetic materials melt and drip, further spreading the flames, as greater amounts of smoke, toxic and combustible gases are released more quickly.

"The majority of people who die in house fires, don't die from the flame or the fire but inhalation of toxic fumes and gasses," said Opelika Fire Department Chief Byron Prather. "They use petroleum to manufacture the foam, petroleum by products in there and when it burns it burns rapidly and gives off a black dark smoke soot smoke."

Within minutes, the burning sofa turns this room into a death chamber. Just a few breaths, and you'll pass out.

"You were inside an IDLH atmosphere, that's Immediate Danger to Life and Health, any situation you are breathing air that will render you unconscious and prevent you from escaping," Prather said.
It's not just the furniture putting you at risk. Lightweight construction and open floor plans feed a fire oxygen.

The result: blazes that burn eight times faster.
"Once a piece of furniture starts free burning the foam it burns rapidly, the smoke banks down and at that point in time you don't have long at all," Prather said.

Fire experts realize synthetic furniture is here to stay, so make a plan to protect your family: prevention, detection and evacuation.
Common sense prevention tips include keeping open flames like candles and space heaters away from furniture or just don't use them at all. Also, toss out those cheap extension cords...
Detection is critical. Your home needs multiple smoke detectors, one inside and outside every sleeping area and placed throughout the home on both floors. Test them regularly to make sure the batteries are working.

Finally, have an escape plan.

"Have two escapes for each room, what if the door is blocked, do you have a UL approved safety ladder to get out of the house," Prather said.
Remember, stay low to the ground by crawling on the floor.
"The goal is to stay low, that's what we do, it's where the oxygen is," Prather said.

The men and women of the Opelika Fire Department will risk their lives to save yours. They simply ask you do everything in your power to make sure they don't have to.

Another solution for preventing this new breed of house fires is a home sprinkler system.

Recent research shows a smoke alarm cuts the risk of dying in a house fire by about one third. An automatic sprinkler system cuts the risk of death by 80 percent.

At this point,  both Alabama and Georgia laws leave it up to the homeowner to decide if they want the additional protection, which can be costly.

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