House fires are burning faster than decades ago

Winter is a time to be extra vigilant at home as more fires happen during the cold months than any other time of year. What your home is made of and what’s inside of it, could make things a lot more dangerous for you.

Fire officials say the way some of the newer houses are designed, or even remodeled, can impact how fast they burn. 

“Houses burn faster, materials burn faster and houses collapse faster,” said Inver Grove Heights Fire Chief Judy Smith Thill. “That is a danger to not only residents, but also to our firefighters.”

Fire Chief Smith Thill has seen a lot over her three decades in this career, including how fast house fires are burning.

“We did have once incident where our firefighters went in and they make a search and it was on a tile floor and they made their search and by the time they came back the floor collapsed beneath him,” she said.

Angie Wiese, the fire safety manager at the City of St. Paul, says people have a lot less time to get out of a burning home.

“You used to have about 15 minutes to escape,” said Wiese. “Now you have about five tops – and that’s not from when you discover the fire, that’s when the fire started, so that’s really not that long.”

Wiese explains the reason for that drastic change includes how new houses are designed or remodeled.

“There used to be a lot more walls and doors and we have fewer walls and doors,” said Wiese. “There’s a lot more open concept, it’s very popular, even in older homes. We’re taking down walls any chance we get. So that really allows the fire to move incredibly fast.”

Certain materials in furniture and items throughout the home can also contribute to a faster burning fire.

“Legacy furniture was made of cotton and wood - think of your great grandmother’s house,” said Wiese. “Today’s furniture is synthetic, a lot of polyurethane foam, plastics and that just burns faster and hotter.”

Chief Smith Thill says people need to focus on fire prevention and having a plan in place if the worst happens.

“What’s at stake is the lives of the residents - can they get out?” she said.

Officials with the Builders Association of Minnesota say the most recent code in the state requires them to include sheet rock over composite wood joists in new construction as an extra fire barrier. They also are required to have interconnected smoke detectors with backup batteries in new homes.