There is an average of 350,000 home structure fires per year in the United States. That’s a scary number! Firefighters are a vital resource when you really need them. With fast responses and proper tactics, fire departments save property and lives every day. How long does it take for firefighters to put out the average house fire? What factors can make one fire harder and slower to fight than another?
It takes between 5 minutes and 2 hours to put out an average house fire. The timeline can vary greatly due to construction, fire department response time, the number of emergency resources, cause of the fire, water supply and how far advanced the fire is when it is called in.
Firefighting is a dynamic job and each fire can be very different than the next. Let’s take a look at how long it takes for a fire to spread, the amount of time it usually takes for firefighters to put the fire out. Take a look.
Also read: House Fire Temperature: How Hot Does It Get?
How Long Does it Take Firefighters to Extinguish a House Fire?
A house fire can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours, or more, for firefighters to extinguish.
Now, this is a huge range of times. Why can it vary so much? Because there are lots of variables…
First, someone has to notice the fire.
Either someone is home and sees the fire start or smells smoke. Or a smoke/fire alarm is activated (either locally or to an alarm center). When either of these happen, someone calls the local fire department (usually via 911).
It can take a few minutes or more for the fire to get noticed and called in. Approx. 2-5 minutes. Lets say an average of 3 minutes.
Total Time: 3 minutes
Then firefighters are alerted and respond. The dispatcher will call for the number of resources (fire engines, trucks, rescues, chiefs, etc.) that are needed, based on the information they are given.
All the firefighters get into their firefighting gear (turnouts), get on the apparatus and drive to the house on fire as quickly as possible (while being safe).
It will take 1 to 2 minutes for dispatch to notify the appropriate fire stations and for them to put on their gear and leave the station. Then it takes about 2-5 minutes for firefighters to respond to the location. Call it 5 minutes.
Total time: 8 minutes
Then firefighters will determine how to best put out the fire, based on what they find. They will always prioritize life safety over everything else. That means if someone is trapped inside, they may use a lot of resources to rescue the person before they find and extinguish the fire.
(This really can vary- sometimes the best way to save someone inside is to put out the fire fast).
If it is a small fire that is contained to the kitchen or bedroom, with no rescues, firefighters can quickly make access, pull an attack line (fire hose) or use an extinguisher to put out the fire pretty fast. This can be as little as 2 to 3 minutes from when they arrive at the house on fire.
However, if it is a large house, with people still inside, and the fire has spread to a majority of the home (we call it “fully involved”), then it is going to take a lot more work, personnel, and time to get the fire under control. This can take hours to contain.
This can be further complicated by other factors:
- No fire hydrant or other water supply close by, (or not working properly)
- House is difficult to access (long, narrow or steep driveways, obstacles blocking entry points, bars on windows, reinforced metal doors)
- Lack of resources (firefighters are tied up at other emergencies and it takes longer to get extra help)
So, the actual extinguishment of a fire can be fairly quick or take a very long time.
In my experience, it usually takes about 20-40 minutes to get an average house fire put out, once the fire engines have arrived.
Firefighters will usually be there much longer to perform other tasks like salvage, overhaul and cleanup.
Total time: 38 minutes
From the time a fire starts until it is extinguished will take an average of 38 minutes. Though firefighters have a lot more work and will frequently stay for hours after the fire has been put out.
And remember, this time can be all over the place, this is just a rough average.
Also read: Why Do Firefighters Cut Holes In Roofs?
How Fast Does a Fire Spread?
Fire can move quite fast, in the right conditions. Much faster than most people realize. A fire can go from igniting to burning all contents of a room in 3 minutes or less.
Now, it doesn’t always burn this fast.
In older construction (1970’s and earlier), homes and furnishings were made with natural materials like: wood, cotton, wool, and metal. These materials burn much slower than more modern materials. This means fire spreads slower and occupants have longer to get out safely.
However, in the last 50 years, most houses and there furnishings are made mostly of synthetic materials, like: plastic, foam, and engineered wood. These will cause a fire to burn faster and hotter. And not just a little bit faster. Exponentially faster!
The change in common building materials has made it necessary for a change in firefighting tactics and practices. There has been a ton of research on this, because of the dramatic effect it can have on civilian and firefighter safety and lives.
This video shows just how different the type of materials that are burning can effect the spread of fire:
A fire can spread in a room to the point of flashover in as little as 3 minutes, but can be as long as 30 minutes or more, depending on the construction materials used.
How Long Does it Take a Fire to Double in Size?
A fire can double in size every 15 seconds for a very fast-moving fire and up to every 2 minutes in a slow-moving fire.
While this also varies based on what is burning, if it is a contained area (heat is trapped and burns faster), and the size of the space, fire grows much faster than most people know.
Just think, if a can get twice as big every 30 seconds, it will only take a few minute until there is a huge, out of control fire.
This video shows a demo of a Christmas tree fire and how it doubles in size every minute:
How Long Does it Take for a House to Burn Down?
A house can become fully involved in as little as 5 minutes but usually will take at least an hour or more to fully burn down.
Again, it depends.
A small, modern house made with synthetics will burn down much faster than a huge brick house from the 50’s.
Some experts say that in a house fire, an average room is exposed to flames for about 20 minutes, but that doesn’t mean the whole house had burned down. And a home may smolder for hours after it has burned down.