CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Firefighters refer to asphalt siding as "gasoline siding" because it can spread fire nearly as fast as gasoline -- making your home go up in flames more quickly.
A fire last weekend at a house on Charleston's West Side destroyed a family's home, and firefighters say a nearby apartment complex could have been in danger because it had asphalt siding.
The siding, which looks like brick, is actually sheets of felt paper with a coating of tar on top. While asphalt siding isn't used in newer homes, firefighters say it's common in older homes.
"You'll see the mineral's ingrained in it to give it the texture of brick," Rich Simmons, Assistant Chief at the Charleston Fire Department, said.
Simmons noted that while his firefighters don't see fires from asphalt siding all the time, it is something they must take into account at a scene.
"The danger is if a fire breaks out a window, it will auto-expose the next floor up very quickly. The fire can spread," Simmons said. "While the firemen are inside, the fire may spread and get up to the top floor before they realize it's there."
Simmons also said that flames don't even have to break a window. The heat from the siding can radiate through the window and ignite anything inside if it gets hot enough. That poses a danger to nearby buildings, as well.
"Any time there's exposure within, say, five feet, and you have a siding like this, it will expose that building very quickly and you'll have two fires instead of one," Simmons said.
While some homeowners might think there's no need for concern because they don't see asphalt siding on their house, Simmons noted that sometimes asphalt siding can be underneath new siding like vinyl.
"Be aware that sometimes that the contractors come in an older neighborhood, they will put siding, vinyl siding on top of it," Simmons said. "Nobody will know it's there, maybe even a renter or the homeowner that buys it not know it's there."
The best move, Simmons advises, is to get rid of asphalt siding completely and then replace it with vinyl siding or brick. For homeowners who aren't sure if they have asphalt siding underneath, he recommends getting a home inspector to check it out.