When your smoke alarm goes off you don’t have time to look around

Tuesday, May 17th, 2022

Research shows that 30 years ago, you had about 17 minutes to escape a house fire:

Today it’s down to three or four minutes. The reason: Newer homes and the furniture inside them actually burn faster. A lot faster.


“The backing of your carpet is synthetic, your drapes are synthetic, the couch, the pillows are synthetic,” explained John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL. “They burn hotter and faster than natural materials do.”

A similar fire set to the sofa pillow in the room simulating an older home burned for several minutes without even catching the rest of the sofa. At 15 minutes the room was still intact; it wound up taking 30 minutes for the room to burn.


“When your smoke alarm goes off you don’t have time to look around, get your wedding pictures,” Drengenberg said. “You get out as quickly as you can.”


  1. Mike-SMO says:

    Good point.

    Our Fire Department responds with backpack “super soakers” and a hose fed from a belly tank in the pumper. They are fast responders. If they can knock a fire down, fine. If not, then evacuate. The structure and contents are “disposable”. Modern construction and furnishings are not fire resistant. Fire and storm resistant storage for valuables, mementos, data back ups, etc. is all on you.

  2. Bruce says:

    Mike, why not CO2? Seems lighter and more effective.

  3. Wang Wei Lin says:


    I think CO2 is a great fire suppressant. In the 80s it was common to use in computer rooms, paint booths, etc. Now it’s better your house burn than touch the devil’s greenhouse gas.

  4. Mike-SMO says:

    CO2 is dandy for solvent fires but sucks for wood and other materials that are used to build or furnish modern homes. And water is cheap, easy to store and use. Add an adapter and you have foam. On the job, in the lab, we used dry powder, but the environment was free of wood and common furnishings.

    Residences are a difficult environment for fire fighting. Older homes had lots of plaster and dimensional lumber. There is smoke but the structure is fairly fire resistant. Newer builds use heat sensitive “engineered” beams and common drywall ( X Fireboard is heavier, more expensive, and harder to work with.) I asked the owner of a new build in our neighborhood if the master bed (over the garage) had an ejection mattress. He didn’t smile.

    If the “Super Soaker” doesn’t work, RUN! In fact, if the alarm goes off, wait outside for the “Super Soaker” and the truck with the blinky lights. Hospital burn units are no fun.

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