Propane safety and dangers in Washington state

by: Richard Thompson Updated:

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Olympia, Wash. - After the propane plant explosion and fire in Florida, KIRO-7 decided to investigate propane dangers in Washington state. The Washington Association of Fire Chiefs tells KIRO-7 in 2012 there were 19 fire-related incidents involving propane in Washington state. Harborview Medical Center, home to one of the nation's most highly regarded burn units, tells us there were 30 barbecue-related burns from January 2012 through July of this year. The burns involved several cases of exploding or malfunctioning propane tanks, causing injury to people operating propane grills.

"Obviously since it's propane gas it could be very dangerous," said Todd Deck, who works with Acme Fuel in Olympia. Deck showed us how propane tanks for the grill have a manufacture date stamped on the cylinder. If the tank is more than 12 years old, you are supposed to take it to a propane dealer and have them check it for safety and re-certify it if the tank is still safe to use. Deck showed KIRO-7 a rusty and pitted tank, saying "This tank here because it has a lot of rust on it we would not re-certify."

Many propane tank-related injuries are the result of human error while operating barbecue grills. "It's very important when you got to light a grill not to light it with the grill lid closed," said Daryl Logue, owner of Capital City Stove and Grill. Logue said propane cases can build up under a closed lid and explode if ignited while the lid is closed.

Liz Davis of Olympia had her own frightening experience with a propane grill. "We actually smelled gas inside the house," said Davis, who had a barbecue with a faulty propane tank. "Ultimately we figured out the tank was leaking even though it was turned off."

When used properly, propane tanks are relatively safe, but the experts consulted by KIRO-7 said you have to treat the pressurized gas with respect and common sense. They said never leave your barbecue grill unattended, don't forget to turn off the grill and the gas tank when done using the grill, and if you smell gas turn everything off immediately until the cause of the leak is identified and properly fixed.

Some additional information from the National Fire Protection Association:

U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 1,170 home structure fires involving propane-gas in 2003-2007. These fires resulted in 34 civilian deaths, 135 civilian injuries and $48 million in direct property damage.

Spark, ember or flame from operating equipment was the leading heat source for propane-gas home structure fires.