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Full-Scale House Fire Experiment
for InterFIRE VR
May 6, 1998

FR 4009

A.D. Putorti Jr and J. McElroy
Building and Fire Research Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
U.S. Department of Commerce
Gaithersburg, MD 20899

November 2, 1999
Revised April 10, 2000


Many thanks to Mr. Jason Clement of the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, for assistance in conducting the burn experiment. Appreciation is also extended to Mr. Daniel Madrzykowski of NIST and Mr. Steve Austin of the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) for support of this project


A public/private partnership involving multiple federal agencies and private industrywas assembled todevelop a comprehensive fire investigation training tool. The partnership consisted of the following federal agencies: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the U.S. Fire Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); and private industry partners: American Re-Insurance and the National Fire Protection Association. NIST provided technical assistance to the partnership during development of an educational interactive CD-ROM for fire investigators, titled "InterFIRE VR." The CD-ROM contains video of fire ignition and development in a single family dwelling, as well as visual documentation of the pre and post-fire scene. Prior to the fire, NIST provided input into the choice of furnishings, fire scenarios, and ventilation conditions necessary for the desired fire effects. Recommendations were developed using the results of computer-based zone fire models, empirical correlations, and engineering judgment.

During the fire experiment, NIST conducted measurements of temperature and radiant heat flux, and recorded video inside the structure. Data were recorded every 3 s with a computerized acquisition system. The experiment discussed in this report occurred on May 6, 1998, at the Massachusetts State Police Academy, 340 Brookfield Rd., New Braintree, Massachusetts. The address of the dwelling was 5 Circle Drive, New Braintree, Massachusetts. The measurements conducted in the structure during the test included: ceiling to floor temperatures within various rooms, and radiant heat flux at floor level.



The building used for the fire experiment was an unoccupied, two story, single family dwelling. The building was of wood frame construction, with gypsum board interior walls and ceilings. Exterior walls consisted of wood clapboard. The floors throughout the building, except the kitchen and bathroom, were constructed of hardwood. The floors in the kitchen and bathroom were covered with vinyl flooring. Two of the walls in the living room were covered with laminated wood (pine) paneling.

The building had a full basement, but it did not extend under the attached garage. The pitched roof of the building was covered with asphalt shingles.

The layout of the building is shown in Figs. 1 through 3, and includes four bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, and garage. . All doors in the building were closed fully during the experiments except the first floor door leading to the basement, the door from the kitchen to the dining room, and the upstairs bathroom door. Exterior doors were all fully closed with the exception of the door from the kitchen to the outside. All windows of the dwelling were fully closed except for the basement windows and the upstairs bathroom window which were opened fully. The kitchen windows over the sink were also open, but not fully.

The distance from the floor to the ceiling in the first floor of the structure was 2.29 m (7.50 ft), while the distance from the floor to the ceiling in the hall and bathroom on the second floor of the building was 2.32 m (7.60 ft). The dimensions of the rooms, door openings, and window openings are given in Figs. 1 through 3. The estimated expanded uncertainties in the ceiling height and door opening dimensions are ±0.02 m (±0.8 in).

It should be noted that all of the uncertanties stated in this report are expanded uncertanties1 derived from Type B evaluations with a coverage factor, k, equal to 2. A coverage factor of 2 corresponds to a confidence interval of approximately 95 percent, assuming a normal distribution applies.

A diagram of approximate furniture locations is shown on Fig. 4.



Temperature Measurement

The temperatures were measured with 0.51 mm (0.02 in) nominal diameter bare bead, type K thermocouples. The floor to ceiling thermocouple arrays were in the living room and dining room as shown in Fig. 5. The elevations of the thermocouples above the floor are given in Table 1.

The estimated expanded uncertainties in the temperatures of the thermocouples are ±7 oC (±13 oF) as derived from the thermocouple wire manufacturer2,3, and voltage measurement estimates. The estimated expanded uncertainties in the thermocouple locations are ±0.05 m (2.0 in).

Radiant Heat Flux Measurement

The radiant heat flux at the floor of the living room was measured with a water cooled, Schmidt-Boelter type heat flux transducer. The transducer was equipped with a sapphire window to exclude convected heat flux. The view angle of the transducer, with the sapphire window installed, was approximately 150o. The radiant heat flux transducer was installed through the floor of the living room in order to protect the cooling and data lines from fire and physical damage. The face of the transducer was parallel and flush with the upper surface of the floor. The estimated expanded uncertainty of the radiant heat flux measurement is ±5 % from manufacturer data3,4, and voltage measurement estimates. The estimated expanded uncertainty in the radiometer location is ±0.01 m (0.4 in).

Weather Conditions

The approximate weather conditions during the experiment were as follows: temperature, 12 oC (53 oF); relative humidity, 100 %; barometric pressure, 98.3 kPa (29.1 in Hg); wind speed, 1 m/s (3 mph); wind direction, from 74o.


The sequence of events for the experiment is given in Table 2, with an estimated expanded uncertainty of 3 s in the event times. Ignition occurred at approximately 0756 h.

The temperatures of the thermocouples measured within the living room are shown in Fig. 6. The data are presented for various distances from the floor, illustrating the temperature profile as a function of height. Data from all of the temperature measurements are presented in Appendix A of this report.

Temperatures of the thermocouples measured within the dining room are shown in Fig. 7.

The radiant heat flux measured by the transducer in the living room is shown in Fig. 8.


Table 1. Living room and dining room thermocouple elevations.

Number Distance From Floor (m)
Distance From Floor (ft)

Table 2. Sequence of events.
Elapsed Time (s)
Call for suppression
Suppression begins

Figure 1. Plan view of first floor.

Figure 2. Plan view of second floor.

Figure 3. Plan view of basement.

Figure 4. First floor furniture locations.

Figure 5. First floor equipment locations.

Figure 6. Living room thermocouple temperatures.

Figure 7. Dining room thermocouple temperatures.

Figure 8. Radiant heat flux at floor level in the living room.

Appendix A

Temperature Measurements

1Taylor, B.N. and Kuyatt, C.E. "Guidelines for Evaluating and Expressing the Uncertainty of NIST Measurement Results." NIST Technical Note 1297, 1994 Edition. National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD.

The Temperature Handbook. Omega Engineering, Inc., Stamford, CT. Vol. 27.

The mention of a particular manufacturer's products does not constitute endorsement by NIST, nor does it indicate that the products are necessarily those best suited for the intended purpose.

Bulletin 118. Medtherm Corporation, Huntsville, Al. 1993.

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