North Newton, KS- Two recent explosions involving pilot lights including one near North Newton that killed a 55-year-old man have fire officials voicing concerns as cooler weather approaches.
“I would recommend any furnace that hasn’t been used all summer, they still need to get it checked,” Sedgwick County Fire Marshal Tim Millspaugh said.
“If this weather keeps up, I would suspect people will begin using their furnaces earlier than normal.”
And that could lead to trouble, Millspaugh and others said.
Terry Reynolds was badly burned when he tried to ignite the pilot light of the water heater in the basement of his house just outside of North Newton on Aug. 6.
He didn’t realize it, but propane fumes had been collecting next to the floor of the basement, and an explosion occurred. He died of his injuries Aug. 29.
Two people were burned when a flash fire ignited at a north Wichita bakery on Aug. 11.
The pilot light on a gas oven wasn’t lit when an employee at Delano Bakery turned on the gas to bake several loaves of bread, fire officials said, and the gas was ignited by the flames of a properly operating oven nearby.
While the circumstances differed, fire officials said the two incidents illustrate risks that exist with devices that use pilot lights.
Newer water heaters and furnaces typically have electronic ignition, rather than relying on standing pilot lights.
“But we still have a lot of floor furnaces around town, and people don’t give them the proper respect,” Wichita fire Capt. Stuart Bevis said.
All too often, people slide carpets or furniture over a floor grate, or stack combustible materials too close to the furnace. When the furnace kicks on, it sets the stage for a fire.
People who have floor furnaces should make sure grates are clear and nothing sits close to the furnace before it is needed, Bevis said.
And no matter what type of furnace a home has, Millspaugh said, it should be checked to make sure it’s operating properly.
“There should be a check for small gas leaks prior to getting things going again,” he said. “You don’t know what’s happened over the summer.”
Hail stones could have dented shut vent caps, meaning carbon monoxide can’t escape outside as it should.
“You may not have a fire, but you may have carbon monoxide building up and it can sneak up on you,” Bevis said.
Those with fireplaces should have chimney sweeps check the chimneys for a build-up of creosote or for cracks in the masonry that might allow heat and fire to escape and ignite surrounding combustibles, fire officials said.
Another wise investment, Millspaugh said, would be a combination carbon monoxide/smoke detector.