Eau Claire, WI – Two recent propane-related explosions near Turtle Lake have left injuries and damage in their wake, along with questions about propane safety.
Gary Gonyear, petroleum manager at River Country Co-op in Chippewa Falls for more than 20 years, said he seldom hears about explosions or problems with propane.
“Anytime I have heard of an explosion it was because someone either added an appliance and didn’t have it checked or didn’t notify a company when they added a gas line,” he said. “It has been when people didn’t think before they did something.”
Ward Tigner, 55, of Alamo, Texas, was hospitalized with severe burns Sunday night after an explosion in his camper at the St. Croix Casino RV Campground. Tigner’s wife and dog also were in the camper but were not injured.
A propane tank in the camper that was leaking gas apparently caused the explosion, authorities said, but details of exactly what happened are still unclear.
On the night of July 24, a cabin blew up on Upper Turtle Lake, also damaging several nearby homes. The home was empty and no one was hurt. A propane leak is believed to have caused the explosion.
Gonyear defended propane as a safe source of heating. He advises homeowners installing new appliances such as hot water heaters to have propane suppliers check the work for leaks or do the installation to ensure it is done correctly.
“If handled properly, it is the safest fuel there is,” Gonyear said.
Gonyear said River Country Co-op hands out safety brochures to customers, who then must sign a form affirming they were offered a brochure. The brochure offers safety tips on what propane smells like or what to do in case of a propane leak.
Rick Merryfield, head of inspections for the Eau Claire Fire Department, said there are not many propane accidents in the city because few use propane to heat their homes.
Merryfield said problems may be more frequent in campers.
“It can be something that is not noticed right away or something as simple as static electricity,” Merryfield said of things that can cause propane accidents.
The magnitude of a propane explosion depends upon whether the gas is in the flammable range, he said. If the concentration of propane gas in the air is less than 20 percent, there is no chance of explosion, but there could be an explosion if it is between 20 percent and 70 percent.
Merryfield said a good safety tip is to properly maintain propane tanks and protect them from damage.
He also advised not storing tanks where they can tip or the valves can be hit by falling objects; to keep the on/off valve shut tightly when not in use; and, if there is a leak, to evacuate the area immediately and call 911.