fire fighters fighting a house fire
Photo: All Canada Photos/Alamy

All in a Flash

In as little as 30 seconds a small flame can become a major fire that ravages a home and threatens the lives of the people inside. According to Glenn Gaines, the Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator, fires kill more Americans each year than all natural disasters in the United States combined. And even if individuals are spared, fire can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage—up to $50,000 to rebuild a kitchen engulfed in flames.

What's most alarming is that home fires have become more dangerous and devastating recently because of the flammability of the materials in the house. Thirty years ago, you had on average about 14 to 17 minutes to escape a house fire, according to Consumer Safety Director John Drengenberg of Underwriters Laboratories (UL). "Today, with the prevalence of synthetic materials in the home, occupants have roughly 2 to 3 minutes to get out," said Drengenberg. Fire testing conducted by UL has found a home with mostly synthetic-based furnishings can be entirely engulfed in less than 4 minutes.

So what happens in those first few minutes of a fire that allows it to go from manageable to out-of-control? This Old House has broken down the sequence of events in a typical kitchen fire to show how quickly the devastation can spread. Follow along to learn how you can best protect your home, your loved ones, and your own life.
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