Up in smoke: A hidden fire danger that could be inside your home

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 16, 2015) - All across the country, builders are using a material that's making fires burn hotter and faster.

Last month, flames tore through a Fishers apartment building still under construction. The early morning fire destroyed a building in the $35 million Flats at Fishers Marketplace. Firefighters point to that incident as a prime example of what happens when lightweight materials catch fire. Investigators are still working to determine what caused the fire.

"With the construction it burns quickly and as it burns it increased the probability of collapse, it's one of those issues we have with this type of construction, throughout the nation, that floors burn out quickly roofs come in quickly," said Capt. John Mehling with the Fishers Fire Department.

Fishers firefighters were forced to evacuate the apartment building when conditions became to dangerous. They got out just minutes before the structure started collapsing.

"We went to zero visibility real quickly, the heat increased," said Lt. Rob Hackett.

The lightweight materials have their advantages too. They're cheap, more environmentally friendly and considered safe when used with other fire protections methods.

CBS4 reached out Ohio-based Ackermann Group, the developer of the Flats at Fishers Marketplace. Phone calls were not returned.

Capt. Mehling admits if someone was living inside the building, "We may have had a different story than we're talking about today."

Other large fires in recent history also involved lightweight building materials. Indianapolis firefighters have several examples that also involved apartment buildings under construction.

More than two years ago a fire destroyed the at 16 Park apartment building, developed by the Indianapolis Housing Agency. Back in 2009 flames ripped through Cosmopolitan on the Canal in downtown Indy. Both buildings were unoccupied at the time.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the lightweight engineered I-beams burn about three times faster. A study conducted by Underwriters Laboratories showed a traditional beam withstood fire for about 18 minutes while a lightweight beam only lasted for about six minutes.

Some states are taking action. Massachusetts recently changed the building code to slow down the burn time by requiring beams to be covered in sheet rock. A recent apartment fire in New Jersey also has lawmakers talking about strengthening building codes.

"And it's not that, I don't want to think that it's unsafe for people to live in these because they're not, it's just the effect of fire and they need to have smoke detectors. They need to have awareness in order to get out because they don't have a lot of time to get out of those buildings," said Shawn Grass, Fire Safety Instructor at Ivy Tech and a Battalion Chief with the Indianapolis Fire Department.

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