Home plastics make fires hotter, faster

July 30, 2012 at 12:44 AM
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NEW YORK, July 30 (UPI) -- The increase in plastics and other synthetics in homes and the new "open concept" results in houses fires burning hotter and faster, U.S. researchers said.

Members of the New York City Fire Department, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Underwriters Laboratories set fire to 20 abandoned townhouses on an island in New York City to do "live burn" experiments.

"We studied these fires from start to finish," Dan Madrzykowski, a fire protection engineer for the institute, said in a statement.

The townhouses were filled with the same kind of sofas, chairs, beds and other furnishings, and were outfitted with about 100 sensors to measure temperatures, heat flows, concentrations of toxic gases and other variables.

Because homes contain less wood, wool and cotton, and more plastics, fires are faster and hotter, which results in a shorter time for flashover -- when heat builds up in a burning structure's contents to the point that they burst into flames simultaneously, Madrzykowski said.

The experiments evaluated methods for strategically ventilating and isolating fires to prevent flashover -- or at least delay it -- as opposed to kicking a door open or breaking a window, which could create a portal for air that could literally fan the flames, Madrzykowski added.

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