MIAMI (CBSMiami) — House fires are burning quicker and hotter than ever before, putting lives at risk. Flashover fires can engulf an entire house in a matter of minutes because of the type of furniture many people have inside their homes.

Firefighters and researchers showed a live burn experiment where a container was set up to look like a small living room. The room was filled with contemporary furniture.

Seconds after lighting a candle, the curtains catch on fire. Smoke starts seeping up to the ceiling. As the cloud of smoke lowers, the temperature rises. Then, almost simultaneously, the furniture self-ignites. It’s called a “flashover.”

“The furnishings get hot, the walls start to super heat, those things get hot they reach ignition point and erupt into fire,” said fire Chief Derek Alkonis.

It’s apparently the synthetic materials in today’s furniture that makes flashover occur more quickly. A house fire these days reaches flashover in just 3-4 minutes.

“These synthetic materials liberate a lot of heat have a lot of heat release,” said Alkonis.

For instance, sofas are stuffed with synthetic materials that burn ten times faster than cotton.

In a side by side comparison study, researchers found a room with furniture built 30 years ago of natural cotton, wood and linens burnt slower than a room with modern furniture which reached flashover in less than four minutes.

“Today you may have 5-7 minutes before room flashes in the synthetic fuels, yesterday you had twice the time,” said Alkonis.

With so little time to spare, firefighters have had to adapt with new tactics when they attack a fire, like scaling back aggressive ventilation techniques.

“Opening a door a window too soon can give it that oxygen and you would have an explosive environment on your hands,” said Alkonis.

The second change involves the timing for turning on water hoses. Dousing a house fire before going in was something firefighters never used to do, for fear of burning people inside with steam.

“Now the fire is developing much more rapidly. Before it wasn’t as rapid, people had time to get out of structures now you don’t have the time,” said Alkonis.

Since synthetic furniture is cheap, green and here to stay, how can you best protect your family?

“As we’re living in sea of synthetics, you need to have working smoke detectors and close your door when you go to sleep,” said Alkonis. Also, if you don’t have them, but can afford them, install sprinklers.


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