How long does it take…

To burn the house down?

Not long at all, when it’s 97 years old… And all seasoned (read dried) wood.

The local VFD did a training burn yesterday, along with three other local departments. Then, with all three sets of units manned, they lit the house off…

This is about 1 1/2 minutes in. Second floor is already fully involved.

This is a 30 second video about the two minute mark. It was really starting to ‘cook’ at this point, setting the grass on fire, and pushing the heat up. Probably 1500-2000 degrees in the fire itself.

This is about the four minute mark, note the height of the flames, and this was when it started ‘throwing’ burning ash downwind…

This is at the five minute mark… HOT! And starting to generate it’s own wind. Grass is now on fire 50+ feet from the house due to the heat, Firemen are working downwind with water cans, putting out fires started by burning debris.

This was probably 50 yards downwind from the house. Debris was hot enough to start a fire in GREEN grass!

I live a half a block away, and this was in my back yard, probably 200 yards from the fire itself. It’s a piece of wooden shingle…

Thirty minutes later… Nothing left of the main structure other than what appeared to be 12 x 12 supports for the second floor porch.

And this is an oak stump, probably 25 yards from the house, that was set on fire (in red circle), by the radiant heat coming off the structure.

So… The local fire departments got a workout, we got rid of a fire hazard/blight on the neighborhood, and nobody got hurt!

That’s a winner all the way around! But the real reason I put this up is a reminder…

It doesn’t take long for a fire to get out of control, and this is why if, BIG IF, you are ever in a situation where fire is involved, get out, and NEVER go back in. The odds are, if you do, you will become a crispy critter, and give the firemen that find your burned body nightmares for years…

Have an escape plan, and train to it. If you have kids, make it a game for them, so that the sound of a smoke alarm generates an automatic response. Have a place to go to (the head of the driveway, the neighbor’s house). Make sure everybody is out. If not, notify 911 and give them your best estimate of their possible location in the house.  HERE’s a Wiki link that has other details, you might want to keep in mind.


How long does it take… — 17 Comments

  1. Another good photo op is training on propane gas tank fires. Local volunteers do this training yearly.

  2. Hey Old NFO;

    Many thanks for the reminder of what will happen when a house catches fire and how fast it can go pear shapes in a hurry.

  3. I think that many people (likely me too) feel that they can recover this or that safely from a burning building. This is a stark reminder that – no, you really can’t.

  4. Indelible memories. Rollinsville, CO winter 1950. Family in night clothes standing in the snow watching everything they possessed going up in flames. Next year, Pinecliff, CO watching our detached garage burn to the ground with only a water hose to keep the side of our house from catching fire. My parents never had to lecture me about fire safety.

  5. Back in the ’80s, I was a firefighter. Temps reach 2,000° F. at ceiling level within a couple of minutes, often resulting in a “flashover” where the entire room ignites simultaneously. Even in full nomex & turnout gear, it’s NOT where you want to be. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Comments from a UK perspective (bricks & mortar housing)…
    I know nothing about material & labor costs for your locality, but given the apparent horrendous danger posed by fire in wooden housing would it not be cost-effective to install a sprinkler/misting system to these older timber homes, if they are in reasonable condition?
    A fire sensor/alarm in every room (Mains powered with Li/ion battery backup), linked to a panel which could start up a HIGH pressure water pump ready to serve whichever sprinkler/mister head was triggered by heat… No. of mister heads per room depends on the size of the room of course.
    Yes, it’s inconvenient if the pipes have to go under floorboards, but a polished copper pipe can look nice when surface-mounted on old wood ceilings (a feature, not an eyesore).
    No mister system here in my house as it’s bricks & mortar, but I’ve 2x fire sensors on each floor of a 2 story house and a further 2 in the garage, ample for here, YMMV…

  7. Thanks for the reminder. Most people don’t have a clue what fire can do and how fast it can do it.

  8. Fred- That it is! Having had two of them blow on us, that was the FIRST thing we did when we rolled in on a fire scene. I’ve seen a fireman pick up a 150 lb propane tank and throw it probably 20 feet to get it clear of the wall that was starting to burn!

    Bob- Yep!

    LL- Nope. You’d be a crispy critter…

    WSF- Yes, that WOULD drive the point home!

    Rev- Exactly!

    Bryn- Cost is the issue. Many locales now mandate smoke alarms, but not retrofitting of sprinkler systems. I know of one historic (wooden) home where they did put a sprinkler system in, as it was going to be part of a museum. It was over $10,000. Most people here can’t afford that.

    • $10,000….. Ok, that’s prohibitive….. Just had a quick word with a friend who happens to be a plumber, he’s done a surface-mount retrofit recently (4xbed farmhouse dated 1674), and the plumbing side came to £2500, the electrical installation was £1900 including the panel. The existing well pump was, surprisingly, of sufficient pressure and capacity. So, £4400 = c.$5670, still more than I could find easily at short notice I have to say….

  9. Fire is definitely nothing to mess around with. My Dad was a volunteer firefighter for 50 years, the last 5 just as treasurer as he was the only one who could consistently keep the books straight, the previous 10 before that as fire police directing traffic around the scene, and as fire fighter the rest of the time. He was the one that told the rest of the department that when you reach a certain age, you need to hand over to the younger guys.

    I had a father-in-law who was a professional firefighter who was forced to retire at the age of 50 when he had a chimney come down on his head. His helmet saved his life, but the weight broke several discs in his neck causing major nerve damage. They brought my mother-in-law the helmet when they came to tell her he was in the hospital. It had a brick embedded into it.

    And I had a husband who was a volunteer firefighter and EMT. The stories any one of them could tell would curl your hair.

    And, finally, under “Don’t do this at home”…do NOT EVER EVER leave a hand towel or anything with fringe hanging on the oven door handle. Especially if you are broiling chicken in the broiler in the bottom of the stove. When you pull the door open, and pull the drawer out, the hot grease can spit up and ignite the towel and you will have 4 foot high flames above the top of the stove in less than 5 seconds. The towel dropped into the drawer of the broiler, and ignited the grease. Gas stove.
    The only thing that saved the day was the fire extinguisher I kept in the kitchen by the door. Made a hellava mess, but it put the fire out.

    We had pizza for dinner that night.

  10. Brig- Yep, it ramps up QUICKLY!

    Bryn- That’s cheap! And understood, not many have the spare cash lying around. The other issue is recertifying sprinkler systems. They have to be tested and recertified every five years, which is NOT cheap either.

    Ed- Heh, I wish! It made a nice reference for the pic though!

    Suz- I did VFD for 10 years in Florida, I hear what you’re saying! And the other thing is clean out the damn lint filter on dryers!!!

  11. But, but, all that house needed was some fresh paint and curtains! And floor joists. OK, and roof trusses, and a new patio, and foundation repairs, and the load-bearing walls shored up, and some paint and a little plumbing work and it would have been just fine!

    (I’ve driven past that house a few times, for those that wonder. It would probably have fallen in on the realtor who tried to open the door, just out of spite.)

  12. TXRed- Exactly… Sad, because it was once a beautiful house, full of good hardwoods, expensive (for the time) doors, and well set up.

  13. Sobering. But, it might go up just as fast or faster if it was a new build. This video is an interesting comparison of one (granted only one) test of modern and old furnishings:
    I don’t know if they’ve ever run a test on modern dimensional lumber vs pre WWII lumber.

  14. Thanks! That makes me feel LOADS better! Our house is built onto what was once a 2-room dogtrot cabin, made from hand-squared red oak logs (red oak for building, white oak for whiskey barrels) in 1868. I’m absolutely freakish about fire protection, having extinguishers in every room, bailout plans for getting out (with The Monsters, all five of them), and Halligan tools in the back bedrooms, for getting out through windows, in case access to the doors is blocked. Short of shaped charges to blow the back walls, I can’t think of anything else I can do.

  15. >we got rid of a fire hazard/blight on the neighborhood
    >>But, but, all that house needed was [everything]
    Hah. You guys should take a drive through Detroit. There are literally thousands of abandoned houses (and storefronts, and office buildings, and churches, etc), and hundreds of partially-burned husks that the city doesn’t have money to deal with, speaking of blights and fire hazards.

    Apropos of nothing other than “Detroilet”: I nearly got taken out on Gratiot Avenue this Sunday in a “Russian dash-cam” type incident where some dude tore diagonally across 7 lanes of traffic on three wheels (the rear passenger-side wheel was entirely absent, and that corner of the car was spitting out sparks from dragging on the pavement) before doing a 180 and slamming broadside into a telephone pole. Missed me by a car-length only because I hit the brakes and swerved. In normal places I’d stop to help, but this being Detroit plus having my 90+ dad in the car I just drove on doing my best SGT Schultz, as about a dozen dudes and youts poured of a bar nearby to gawk and hoot (and not one went over to help either).