The reason why homes are burning hotter and faster than ever

Synthetic materials found in furniture and new construction are causing homes to burn 5 times faster than they used to. (Image: WTVC)

Forty years ago, if your home caught fire, you had around 17 minutes to escape.

That was enough time to grab some family photos, maybe even a few precious heirlooms.

Now, you have only 3 minutes to escape a burning home, barely enough to escape with your life.

In an instant, Priscilla Scott's home was up in flames, "it just burnt so fast and so hot."

Priscilla was inside the home asleep.

As were four other family members.

"I heard the fire alarm go off in our hallway but I disregarded it because it goes off all the time," Priscilla said.

She then went back to sleep.

Moments later, her grandson was dragging her out of bed, "hollering 'NANA! NANA! Fire!'"

Priscilla and her family got out with their lives, but little else

"It was devastating," Priscilla told NewsChannel 9.

She still doesn't know what caused the fire.

"I have no clue why it went so fast but it sure did. We didn't keep any flammables, no gasoline."

Not in liquid form at least.

The fuel to this fire was hiding in plain sight.

Chief Phil Hyman with the Chattanooga Fire Department said "the furnishings in newer homes today and even the materials that homes are made of today burn hotter and burn faster."

The problem with those newer materials is that they are most always synthertic.

Forty years ago, "furnishings were made mainly of wood, paper, cellulose based materials," Hyman said.

Firefighters call those legacy materials and they burn a lot slower.

"Up to twenty minutes before you get flash over in a legacy home whereas flashover will occur in a newer structure with newer furnishings in under two minutes," Hyman said.

"Flashover is when everything is heated up in the room to a point where everything flashes," Hyman told NewsChannel 9.

It only takes three minutes and forty seconds for a modern room to flash, "it's not survivable."

Scott's grandson described what that looks like, "he said his bedroom was just an entire inferno of flame."

"It's impossible to get away from any type of synthetic material," even in the construction of new homes.

Chief Hyman said builders "use lighter materials because it's cheaper. Those lighter materials cause a lot of problems for firefighters in terms of building collapse and increase fire spread and increased fire intensity."

We reached out to a handful of home builders in Chattanooga but no one granted our request for an interview.

These days, the age of the house doesn't really matter.

"With an older house you're going to have newer furnishings in them," Chief Hyman said.

That was true for Priscilla and her family, "furniture we brought was basically seven years or less."

Scott knows a little something about furniture production, "we used to own a furniture store in New Jersey about thirty five years ago."

Even back then she saw a dangerous trend gaining traction.

"We noticed that the furniture was going to cheaper type materials that are more polyester than what would normally be used," said Priscilla.

Chief Hyman said synthetics are almost impossible to avoid, "there's no way to get around, synthetic materials are here."

All you can do is prepare for a quick escape.

"We tell folks to get out, get out, stay out, have working smoke alarms, and have a plan," said Chief Hyman.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off