MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Burglar bars are being blamed as part of the reason nine people died in a Memphis house fire Monday morning.
Investigators said the home's security door and bars on the windows kept family members from being able to escape the flames and smoke. Memphis Fire Department said the bars did not slow down firefighters getting into the building.
Burglar bars are a common sight in the South Memphis neighborhood where the tragic fire occurred.
WMC Action News 5 Chief Investigator Andy Wise went to several houses and asked neighbors if their burglar bars had quick release safety features. The resounding answer: NO.
"Not at all," neighbor Calvin Bunting said. "[I'd have to] just put my foot to it and kick it out."
If he had to escape, Bunting would have to kick his window guards until they gave. That's something that could cost him valuable time during an emergency.
Bunting also has the same security door that was on the house that caught fire Monday.
"That was on the young lady's house, but they weren't able to use it. Nine times out of 10, the key wasn't there," Bunting said.
Many people purchase similar security features for peace of mind. Other times, the security features were installed on the house decades ago. Now, some of those security features are against housing code due to safety concerns--but old houses with the features were grandfathered in so people didn't have to remove them.
Screens and safety doors are now made with keyless, quick release features. They allow people inside to get out quickly, but keep anyone outside (unless they have a firefighting saw) from getting inside.
The problem is, those new devices can be pricey. It could cost thousands of dollars to equip your house with the newest security features.
"If you have a home that has existing burglar bars, they can be retrofitted," MFD Director Gina Sweat said.
The retrofitting can be much more cost-effective. WMC Action News 5 found a retrofitting kit that cost $50 to install a foot release, which allows people inside the house to get out with a single foot stomp.
Another option is burglar bars with a quick release installed inside the window instead of outside it. That way, the home remains secured, but the quick release can still be accessed in an emergency.
Contractors said the interior burglar bars run about $100 per window.
Check your area home improvement stores for other retrofitting options, and consider talking to a reputable security contractor.