(Reuters) - Firefighters will spend the next two weeks setting homes ablaze on a small island in New York Harbor for one purpose: Saving lives.
Eighteen abandoned townhouses on New York City's Governor's Island, formerly housing for members of the Coast Guard, have been turned into a setting for roaring fires in experiments aimed to develop new strategies firefighters can use to save lives.
In one on Tuesday, a match was lit near newspaper in the basement of a fully-furnished home. Within five minutes thick black smoke began to billow from the rear door; before ten minutes had passed, dark red flames licked around the basement windows.
Firefighters gradually broke open the windows to change air flow, seeing how the flames reacted to different ventilation. Under real-life circumstances, air is added as soon as possible from immediately opening roofs, windows and doors.
"They are bringing the lab out to the firefighters," said Dan Madryzkowsky, a fire protection engineer from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which conducted the tests with the FDNY and Underwriters Laboratories, a non-profit group.
The idea behind this and other experiments taking place on Governor's Island is to find flaws in fire-fighting techniques that, in many cases, haven't changed in decades.
At the same time, modern households have undergone dramatic shifts, with organic materials, such as cotton and feathers, largely replaced by more affordable synthetic materials introduced in the 1970s.