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21st century home construction materials cause shorter escape times during house fires

SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) -

A recent fire dynamics study shows modern home construction may be decreasing the amount of time it takes a structure to become fully engulfed.

"If there was a fire started in the same place on couches made today, versus 30 years ago, then it was basically showing the fire progression and how fast it progresses nowadays versus 30 years ago," Smith County firefighter David Gerald says.

Because of the way homes are built in the 21st century, Gerald says homeowners only have about three minutes to escape; simply based on construction materials and furniture.

"Now it’s all synthetic fibers, and the synthetic fibers pose more of a risk with hotter and more lethal fires," Gerald says.

Gerald says the synthetic materials that are used in home construction burn hotter, shortening the average escape time from 17 minutes to 3 minutes.

"There was not as much burned, and not as much damage, you are still going to have your smoke damage, but there is not as much lethal smoke being put off as it is today," Gerald says.

Most homes nowadays are made up of particle board, a combination of wood chips and resin to glue it all together, a perfect formula for a devastating fire.

We looked at a home in Tyler was built in the early 20th century, made of oak.

"3 quarter inch wood on this side, 3 quarter inch wood on that side," a Tyler homeowner says.

According to the Fire Safety Research Institute, this house would have taken 17 minutes to completely fill with smoke; that is if all doors in the house were closed before the fire started.

Smith County fire officials say if this housing trend continues, it will not be in the best interest of firefighters struggling to douse a fire, nor of the homeowners trying to escape or to save their home.

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