Family escapes early morning fire in Franklin Township

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No one died in a fast-moving fire at a south side home, thanks to smoke detectors. It was the kind of fire experts say they see all the time in newer homes.

Smoke detectors helped the Wadleigh family escape, but flames had overtaken the house by the time firefighters got there. It happened on April Lane in Franklin Township early Thursday.

The Wadleigh family have their lives and not much else. Smoke alarms went off at 2:00 am.

"We thought somone burned popcorn," said Judy Wadleigh.

The garage was burning and flames and smoke were spreading into the home. Judy Wadleigh heard her husband yell.

"He just screamed to my boys, 'everyone get out,'" she said.

Arriving firefighters found the house in flames. They spent a few minutes inside trying to save it, but had to retreat for their own safety.

This and other newer homes are products of what is called "lightweight construction." Firefighters say they pose new risks to rescuers and residents.

"They aren't built like the older homes with a lot of heavy timber. It is pretty light weight construction," said Capt. Rita Reith, Indianapolis Fire Department.

Constructed with highly engineered roof trusses, supports and floor beams, they are often held together with steel plates glue and other fasteners, and manufactured with lighter weight lumber and particle-like board.

The engineered lumber is designed and built to weigh less, and to provide as great or greater strength than traditional wood beams. But safety experts say the manufactured supports burn faster and collapse sooner than real wood.

"These types of homes burn pretty quickly. We've got a very small amount of time before the floors and roofs begin to collapse," said Capt. Reith.

One expert estimates firefighters have only half as much time to rescue trapped residents or get the fire under control.

The Wadleighs figure they had just minutes to save them.

"If it weren't for them smoke alarms, we wouldn't be here today," said Judy Wadleigh.

The use of these newer building materials, combined with open floor plans, makes safety plans even more important, according to the fire expert WTHR spoke with.

Besides installing smoke alarms in your home and testing the battery regularly, you should also close bedroom doors at night. That helps slow the spread of smoke and fire. Also, evacuate immediately. Don't try to put the fire out.

One family member was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene. Five cats died in the fire. Damage is estimated at $300,000.

Investigators suspect the cause of the fire was accidental.