DENVER (CBS4) - After a house fire or a wildfire in which homes burn, people often wonder if fireproof safes are really fireproof.
CBS4 Consumer Investigator Jodi Brooks put some to the test.
On the box of the Fire-Safe safe it says the safe is fireproof for up to half an hour. When you store important documents like a passport, birth certificate, or a will inside, you want to know it will survive a house fire.
4 On Your Side Consumer Investigator Jodi Brooks teamed up with the Denver Fire Department to put three models of fireproof safes to the test.
"We're trying to simulate what a house fire will do to it," said Assistant Chief Bob Kmak of the Denver Fire Department.
CBS4 bought three safes all made by the same manufacturer -- SentrySafe -- all marked fire-proof for up to 30 minutes. The smallest retailed for $19.88 at Walmart. CBS4 got a medium size safe for $43.19 at Target and the largest was $79.99 at Office Depot. Each of the safes is Underwriters Laboratory classified for up to 30 minutes of fire protection.
In the Underwriters' Laboratory, the safes are tested in an oven where temperatures around the box get up to 1550 degrees Fahrenheit. They are not tested in real flames like a house fire setting.
Brooks put blank pieces of paper in each box. The Denver firefighters set the fire pan in one of their burn houses. The walls, floors, and ceiling in a burn house are all made of cement, so it's not an exact replication of a house fire. But the firefighters put the boxes on barrels to simulate being up on a desk.
"Paper burns at 451 degrees," said Kmak. "The inside ... if it gets that hot, everything is going to spontaneously combust."
The average response time for Denver Fire is about six minutes. Just to exaggerate the test, CBS4 decided on a 15 minute burn time.
An infrared camera inside the test site showed the temperatures got to 300 degrees on the floor and 600 on the ceiling at about four minutes. At 10 minutes, the floor temperature was 300, but the ceiling got to about 900. At 14 minutes, the floor was still at 300 degrees, but the ceiling had dropped back to 600 degrees. The fire started to burn itself out. At 15 minutes, firefighters put the fire out.
Each of the boxes sustained thermal damage to the outside. On one the latch melted, so the firefighters used a tool to pry it open. But in each case, the papers came out without any fire damage. They did have some water damage.
As the firefighters opened one of the boxes, the top came off, and another came out of the fire without a top. The heat caused the hinges to expand and the top to come off.
It's hard to say exactly what would have happened in a house fire, but these safes did prove to offer fire protection to CBS4's papers inside. If you do have a fire-safe safe in your home, it's location may be what saves all those important documents.
"The absolute best place is in a basement. Keep it down low," Kmak suggested.
SentrySafe told CBS4 that each of their fireproof safes has a lifetime after-fire replacement guarantee. Should one of their safes get destroyed in a fire, it will be replaced at no cost.
- Written for the Web by CBS4 Special Projects Producer Libby Smith
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