Local News

Firefighters Demonstrate Dangers

Posted March 10, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— Fire kills fearlessly, frequently and with more speed than you might imagine. Given the right conditions, a fire can completely engulf a home in a matter of minutes. That means every second you can save in getting out could mean the difference between life and death for you and your loved ones.

The Roxboro Fire Department invited WRAL-TV5's Bret Baier to come along for a demonstration.

The fire set by firefighters was simulated to imitate a fire begun with a cigarette smoldering in a sofa. Firefighters say the smoldering stage can go on for hours, but once the furniture starts to flame the beast is unleashed and residents have only a few minutes to act.

Firefighter Johnnie Gentry says people tend to think it's the flames that kill, but in most cases, it's carbon monoxide.

Within four minutes after the smoke alarm sounded in response to this fire, the sofa was engulfed and flames were scaling the wall in search of oxygen. Within a few more seconds, flames shot to the ceiling and fiery pieces began to fall back down into the room. A few more seconds pass and the heat has become so intense it causes windows to explode, letting in more oxygen which further feeds the frenzy.

At that point, a tidal wave of dense smoke and flames turns the living room into a deadly inferno with temperatures surpassing 1,000 degrees.

Firefighter Michael Rogers says going inside an inferno like that can be very disorienting.

After 15 minutes, the living room is reduced to smoldering wreckage. Anyone who had been in that room would undoubtedly be dead. Gentry says the deadly carbon monoxide lulls sleepers even deeper into sleep when no smoke detector soundsto alert them to the danger.

But even in the rubble, there are lessons. Gentry says you can see marks on the walls delineating where burning took place and, farther down the wall, where smoke was suspended. That, he says, indicates that the lower you get in the room, the better your chances of avoiding the deadly smoke and fire as you attempt to escape. And, if you're below the smoke line, you have some visibility.

The point of the demonstration? To show that people need to have working smoke detectors installed in their homes and a plan for getting out in case of a fire. Smoke is the first warning of a fire when there is a smoke detector, and it's the first thing to kill when there is not.

Firefighters recommend that you buy smoke alarms with lithium batteries. That way, you don't have to worry about changing the batteries for 10 years.