Nowadays you have around 3-5 minutes to escape a house fire compared to having around 15 minutes just 30 years ago. This decrease in time is down to various factors such as the materials used to make modern furniture and the open plan of newer homes. Pretty much everything in the home is now made from synthetic materials which are not good when it comes to fire. These materials burn much hotter and faster than natural materials.
If you do not react quickly enough, the situation can very rapidly go from being able to escape to needing rescue and possible fatalities.
Typical Timeline of a House Fire
Depending on the conditions, no two fires will ever be the same but the following timeline will give you a general idea of how fast a fire can spread throughout a home:
- 30 seconds – fire begins and starts to grow rapidly
- 1 minute – fire spreads and fills the room with smoke
- 1 minute 30 seconds – the temperature rises rapidly and the smoke layer starts to descend
- 2 minutes – fire alarms go off leaving around 2 minutes to escape
- 3 minutes – heavy smoke spreads throughout the home and temperature from the original room reaches 500°F+
- 3 minutes 30 seconds – a “flashover” occurs. Everything in the room where the fire originated will ignite, with the temperature exceeding 1,400°F
- 4 minutes 30 seconds – whole home will be engulfed in flames making any chance of rescue a challenge if at all possible
Using the timeline above you can see that it can easily take less than five minutes for a home to be destroyed by a fire. Hesitation kills and you must have a plan in advance. Leaving it until the last minute does nothing for the safety of you and your family and puts all of you at risk.
The Incipient Stage
The first 30 seconds is the ignition stage where all the right elements (heat, oxygen, and fuel) are present to cause the fire to ignite. During this stage, the fire will start small but grow rapidly causing smoke to rise along with the temperature in the room. Toxic gases will develop as items of furniture start to burn. Recognizing a fire in this stage provides your best chance at suppression or escape.
The Growth Stage
The next stage of the fire is the second and third minutes in which the fire grows at a rapid pace along with the amount of smoke and toxic gases being released. This fire will spread either by the flames coming into contact with other materials in the room or by auto-ignition as the temperature in the room rises. A few breaths of air in the room during this stage can easily make you pass out or even kill you.
The smoke layer that started towards the ceiling will also descend and flood other rooms with hot air and deadly gases. In terms of a flashover, they will occur with very little warning, if any at all. This will lead to the contents of the room suddenly igniting from the floor to the ceiling.
The Fully Developed Stage
The temperatures have reached their maximum which can rise to 1,500 degrees plus and the whole house will become engulfed in flames. By the time that it takes your home to reach these temperatures, there is very little chance of your home being saved or anybody surviving that is still inside.
The Decay Stage
All that is left is for the fire to pretty much start burning itself out as one of the three needed elements (heat, oxygen, and fuel) decreases enough. This is usually the longest of the four stages.
How to Prepare for a Home Fire
1. Smoke Alarms
The fire and rescue service in the UK is called out to around 50,000 fires in the home every year which results in nearly 500 deaths and over 11,000 injuries. Having an early warning in place could have prevented many of those deaths and injuries, giving the homeowners enough time to react. According to the fire and rescue service, you are twice as likely to die in a house fire that has no smoke alarm than a house that does.
Smoke alarms are usually either battery-powered or powered by the mains electricity, with the latter also coming with a battery in case of a power outage. The battery will need to be replaced every 12 months although the sealed units have a 10-year battery lifespan. The very minimum amount of smoke alarms that should be fitted is:
- One floor – one smoke alarm fitted in the hallway between the living and sleeping areas
- More than one floor – one smoke alarm installed on each floor
However, the more that you install, the better the protection for you and your family. If you want maximum protection then you should consider installing a smoke alarm in every room of the home except for the bathroom as the steam can trigger the alarm.
A smoke alarm requires very little maintenance and will only take a couple of minutes of your time to check them over and ensure that they are working properly. A good way to remember to test the alarms is to set it in your diary for when the clocks change at which time you should gently vacuum it with the soft brush attachment to remove any dust from the sensors.
2. Have a Second Escape Route
Every home should have an escape plan in place just in case something happens. While we hope that we never need to use them, we must prepare now so we can act immediately. When making your plan, do so as a family (including children) and make sure that everyone is fully aware of what they should do in the event of a fire. Special arrangements need to be made in consideration of any elderly people who may like with you and how you will implement the escape.
Your escape routes should be practicable and always kept clear of obstacles. You should only use a window as a means of escape if you are in immediate danger from the fire. In this case, one adult should drop first so that the children can be lowered before they too drop. Never jump, DROP! If escaping from an upstairs window, throw the mattress and/or bedding out which will help cushion the landing.
3. Communications Plan
A communications plan can help everyone in the family remain calm and feel in control of what would otherwise be an incredibly terrifying situation. During an event such as a house fire, we may not be able to think clearly and so our communication plan can make all the difference. Use the following steps when creating your plan:
- Gather Important Contact Information – collect contact information for family and close friends. You should also include schools, doctors, medical facilities, and insurance providers. Identify someone outside of your community who can act as a central point of contact to help your family reconnect.
- Review Emergency Response Plans – discuss each detail with your family members, and let your child know who they should contact if an emergency occurs.
- Designate Meeting Areas – your family needs to know where to meet if you become separated during an emergency. In the case of home fires, your meeting area should be outside at a safe distance from the home.
- Distribute Copies – make paper copies of your contact list and the addresses of each of your designated emergency meeting areas. Then, distribute a copy to each family member.
4. Fire Drills
Carrying out regular fire drills are an important part of fire safety. They are important as they simulate the emergency procedure and ensure that everyone within the home fully understands what they are to do in the event of a fire. You should try to have no less than two fire drills a year to make sure that everything stays fresh in the minds of all involved. Everyone within the home must be present and taking part. Don’t decide to skip a fire drill just because your child is having a sleepover at a friend’s house. Either do it before they go or as soon as they get back.
When preparing for a fire drill you need to make some decisions as you can’t watch everyone and what they do at the same time. With each drill, you need to focus on specific things that you are going to monitor. These could be:
- Looking at areas of improvement
- Looking at ways in which you can reduce the amount of time it takes for everyone to exit the building.
To effectively monitor the fire drills, you need to position yourself in strategic areas around the building where you can keep an eye out for good and bad practices. At the end of the drill, gather all family members together, and discuss any areas for improvement. Try blocking off the front and back doors of the property so that everyone has to use alternative escape routes instead of always going for the easy option which won’t always be possible during a real fire. Remember to time how long it takes everyone to safely evacuate the building and get to the safe meeting area away from the building.
5. The Blindfold Test
A great way of training the family for a house fire, including yourself, is to do the blindfold test. A house fire can very quickly turn a house dark as the thick black smoke starts building up so choose a room in the house and imagine that the room is incredibly hot and filled with dark smoke. Think about where your escape routes are and then put on a blindfold and lower yourself to the floor. Crawl along the floor blindfolded, imagining your path in your mind; the barriers and obstacles that you will encounter, and how you will navigate around them. Once you have done the blindfold test you can look back at what you could have done differently and try to improve on those areas.