In our continuing series of survival stories, a Galesburg man awoke to smoke and fire in his home. As it turns out, he had only seconds to survive and the wrong move could have been fatal.
“Woke up to the sound of the smoke alarm,” said Mark Childers.
He showed us what's left of the device that helped save his life when a fire started in his home on April 12th. Yet, even with the warning, he had precious little time to react.
“Still groggy from sleep, I walked towards the door and when I opened the door, everyone's worst nightmare, you know floor to ceiling flames,” Childers explained.
The heat and flames were so powerful, they knocked him back onto his bed. For a moment, he considered making a run for it through the kitchen and out the back door.
“Well, the time that my mind processed, the fire had already leapt across the hallway and stated this door on fire,” Childers added.
So he says it was time for plan B: the bedroom window.
“By the time I had turned, opened the window, the heat had hit me so hard in the back. I heard my hair sizzle, back of my ears burn and I opened the window and the blinds just started melting in front of me”.
He didn't just crawl out, he dove head first. The melted blinds are still lying on the grass outside his bedroom window.
“Which, luckily, he was able to get out, cause a few second later, I think it would have been a different scenario,” said Galesburg Fire Inspector Mike Whitson.
He says Mr. Childers is very lucky, especially considering how quickly a fire can grow.
“Every 10 seconds it's doubling in size. The hot gases, the toxic smoke, toxic gases. And so a couple of breaths of hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide and your going out and that's what's killing you,” said Whitson.
The only thing in Mark Chiders' favor was where the fire started. The fire inspector traced the likely cause to a power strip, connected to a TV and space heater. On the opposite side of the room was the couch. The heat — estimated at 400 to 600 degrees– was just starting to singe the fabric cover. Had the polyurethane foam cushions caught on fire, Whitson says that could have been a game-changer.
“They compare 6 pounds of polyurethane to a gallon of gasoline,” said Whitson.
“The speed and ferociousness of the fire, you just, it's just unbelievable,” Childers added.
No doubt that's why Mark Childers dove out the window. Now, he's reflecting on what could have happened.
“You know it sounds corny, but one of my first thoughts when I hit the ground out there was–you know–I'm just thankful my daughter and granddaughter weren't home.”
They were staying somewhere else that night. But its because of them, Childers says he made sure all the windows were in working order and weren't blocked. And, they had discussed a fire escape plan, even though it turns out, he had to improvise.
Now, Mark Childers and the Galesburg Fire Department are hoping to save more lives by posting signs in his front yard that read, smoke detectors saved lives here.
The fire damage isn't very obvious from the outside of the home. Childers says that's because after he jumped out of the window and called for help, the fire department arrived within minutes and quickly put the fire out. Childers is now waiting on his insurance company to find out if the home can be salvaged.