Getting Out Of House Fires Alive

House on fire, fire in a bedroom
CBS/The Early Show
It may surprise you to learn that a house fire is reported every 80 seconds in the United States.

Some 3,000 people die in them each year in this country.

The heat alone can kill you. The smoke is deadly. And flames move very quickly.

If you woke up to the sound of a smoke alarm, would you know what to do?

On The Early Show Thursday, consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen reported on a house fire the show actually set, to show viewers how fast flames can spread.

She also suggested several, relatively simple safety precautions that could mean the difference between life and death for your family if flames ever hit your home.

A sprinkler, a working smoke alarm, and a plan of escape, could be the difference between life and death. You would have just minutes to get out alive, Koeppen said.

Koeppen spoke with Meri-K Appy of the Home Safety Council, who told her, "In a fire, time is your enemy. … You may only have 3 minutes to wake up snap into action and get everyone awake and get them outside. That's not a lot of time."

The council helped The Early Show set a home on fire in the Chicago suburb of Libertyville, Ill. The local fire department was standing by.

The fire was started with a lighter and some newspapers in a trash can in the living room, which is right next to the master bedroom.

Most fatal fires happen in the middle of the night while you are sleeping, Koeppen pointed out.

Less than 30 seconds after the newspapers began burning, the smoke alarm went off.

At a minute, the drapes caught fire, and everyone fled the house.

Within two minutes, the couch was on fire, flames were moving along the ceiling, and black smoke was filling the room.

In the master bedroom, whose door was closed, hardly any smoke was visible, even though a fire was raging in the next room.

But in a bedroom with the door open, smoke started to trickle in, then consumed the room. All that could be seen was the reflection of the show's camera in the window.