Every year dozens of people in Virginia die, trapped in their home during a fire, which is why firefighters are spreading a new message: CLOSE THE DOOR!
As in, sleep with your bedroom door shut.
We all think it will NEVER happen, being ripped from your sleep to a piercing alarm, terrifying flames and a thick black smoke choking your lungs.
For most survivors, the smoke lingers in their memories.
"It (the house) was full of smoke," said Alex Le, who escaped fire a fire in Oregon Hill in Richmond earlier this month. "It was black smoke everywhere."
In the 1980s you had 17 minutes to get out of your house, but now, with the materials used to build homes and how fast they burn, that window is just 3 minutes.
This simple act -- closing your bedroom door each night before you go to sleep -- could buy your family life saving seconds in a fire.
Firefighters have long known a closed bedroom door keeps smoke and heat away, but new research proves sleeping with the door shut could actually buy you life-saving seconds.
"Those valuable moments when you're trying to figure out what you need to do. Understand whether you can get out or not. And if you can't, that barrier between you and the fire is critical," said Steve Kerber, a researcher who has conducted hundreds of studies with Underwriter's Laboratories.
He travels the country working with fire departments.
"It's critical. It's a really simple message and it could save your life in a fire," said Kerber.
He shows us a recent test by setting a small flaming fire on the couch in a home with an open floor plan.
Upstairs there are two bedrooms, one with the door open and one with the door closed.
A minute and a half in smoke is pouring into the room with the door open.
At 3 minutes that room is filled with toxic, thick black smoke.
"You wouldn't be able to see the hand in front of your face. You wouldn't be able to breath," said Kerber.
At 5 minutes, the entire house is pitch black, but in the room with the door shut there's still visibility.
There's still air.
NBC12 teamed up with Henrico firefighters at their state-of-the-art training facility to show you the science behind a closed door.
Using two photojournalists and six cameras -- covering all angles -- including the view from a firefighter, Capt. Scott Archibeque lit a flare and set a small flaming fire using wooden crates and straw.
"As the fire continues to grow it's sucking the oxygen from the room," said Archibeque.
As the fire starts to grow he shuts the window and the door.
"This smokes going to start to build and the heats going to start to build," he said.
Outside this room, there's barely any smoke in the hallway and you can breathe normally.
Inside the room, "we can see that the fire obviously is extremely warm and red in color. It's consuming the combustibles in the room. Right now we're probably a couple hundred degrees on the floor. Going across the ceiling it's probably 3 to 500 degrees."
The closed door changes the flow of dangerous heat and toxic gases in a fire.
"Notice how the smoke comes across the ceiling. You can see the heat pushing, looking for the path of least resistance," said Archibeque.
Firefighters rush in to put out the flames before the fire spreads.
"You can have quite a significant fire on the other side of that door, but because the door is closed it's giving you those seconds or even minutes that you may need to find an alternative way out," said Capt. Taylor Goodman.
In a fire it's the smoke that often kills, long before the flames ever reach you.
A lot of parents will say, "My kids won't sleep with the door shut." Make it habit to let them fall asleep and shut their doors before you go to bed each night.
Also, check your smoke detectors every month. Wipe them down, replace them every 10 years and practice a fire escape plan with your family.
NBC12 has also done investigations that revealed the increased danger of fires spreading through houses made and filled with synthetic materials:
Here are some easy worksheets that you can go through to create your Fire Escape Plan. DON'T FORGET TO PRACTICE IT!
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