Fires spread more quickly in new homes, report says

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - House fires hurt or kill thousands of Americans each year, and now they're more likely to burn faster than ever.

That means you and your family will have less time to escape.

Flames engulfed this northland mansion in March.  

Floor to ceiling and wall to wall, an entire home was lost in minutes.
"I was just looking up and I happen to look up and I saw a glow that I knew shouldn't be there," homeowner Patty Garney said.

Everyone made it out safely.

Documents list the cause as "undetermined."

Scenes like this can happen in an instant, now more than ever. 

"We live in homes that are filled with things that burn fast, burn hot, and put out very deadly gas," Jason Rhodes with the Overland Park Fire Department said.

Just two decades ago, home furnishings were made mostly of wood natural fabrics and metal. 

Those tend to take longer to catch fire than plastics that are now in your carpet, your couch and even your cell phone.        

Rhodes says people need to be aware of what exactly is inside their house.

A new report from Underwriters Laboratory, a safety consulting organization, found fires burn more quickly nowadays, especially in newer homes which are built more efficiently.

"There's a chance that it's very air tight and it's also filled with perhaps some light weight construction materials that may not last as long when exposed to fire," Rhodes said.

Home safety expert Ron Hazelton says fires in new homes can become deadly in less than three minutes - much sooner than in older homes.
That's why Hazelton is pushing for fire sprinklers in homes.

Besides saving lives, sprinklers can also help prevent the $7 billion in property damage that fires cause each year.
"Studies have shown they can reduce the amount of damage in a home that were to have a fire by up to 70 percent," Drew Robbins, vice president of Jayhawk Fire Sprinkler, said.

Robbins sprinkler told 41 Action News customers who install sprinkler systems usually don't live close to a fire station or a hydrant.
"They're worried about response times from their fire department," Robbins  said.
Just one sprinkler head can contain 85 percent of fires.
A sprinkler system can cost thousands of dollars to install in an average sized home being built.

"What we see in the Midwest is normally about $1.50 to $3 a square foot depending on finishes, customizations," Robbins said.

But that's for new construction.

The costs go up to retrofit an existing home.

Fire sprinklers are now required in new homes in California and Maryland.

Other states like Missouri failed to approve similar bills.

Kansas actually passed a law in 2012 that prevents cities and counties from requiring sprinklers in most homes.
"It's somewhat, in my opinion, counterintuitive that you know the state would mandate that you cannot force people in new construction to install a sprinkler system," Robbins said.

The National Fire Protection Agency, which sets fire safety standards across the country, encourages fire sprinklers in homes.
"Fire suppression device of any sort is great to have and the more you can afford and install the better but for some people it's probably impractical," Rhodes said.

The Overland Park Fire Department understands many people can't afford fire sprinklers, but they say you should at least have working smoke alarms.

"We rarely go to a fire that has working smoke alarms and find any kind of victims," Rhodes said.

Firefighters say it's usually the homes without working smoke alarms where they see tragedies.  

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