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Jason Hemp

KaboOOM!

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I wanted to share what happened to me today.

 

I work at a Hertz equipment rental in San Francisco. One of our many services is refilling propane tanks. Today a fire broke out at the main filling tank. Literally with out words the facility evacuated like minors escaping a collapsing tunnel.

 

60 seconds later the surrounding area got hot enough that near by tanks started exploding, triggering car alarms a block away and blowing out windows from a neighboring four story building. Six tanks exploded in about 10 minutes, most were five gallon tanks some were 10 glns. I was half a block down from the facility diverting traffic and could still feel the explosions in my gut and under my feet.

 

Each explosion sent dinner plate size pieces of metal in the air followed by a big bubble of flame that was taller than the building. Some people panicked including some drivers but most people were just captivated with their hands over their mouths. I was afraid the main filling tank would blow and take out the whole block, fortunately it didn't. It was strange walking home through mobs of people all stunned and confused, while I had just been feet from where it started and knew exactly what was going on. Even though I wasn't working the propane I was a bit ashamed to be wearing a Heartz uniform today.

 

I want to remind everyone what a 5 gallon tank of propane can do. The thought of one of those explosions I heard and felt today occurring in my shop knots my stomach. Most of us use our imaginations to conceive the possible destruction, now I don’t have to. It’s going to be a couple of days before I go play with my forge.

 

Test your fittings

 

Regards,

 

J. Hemp

propane_hertz_fire.jpg

Edited by Jason Hemp

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Jason,

 

Glad you're alright. Sounds real scarry. Do you know what exactly caused the fire?

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good that your safe... i'm sorry to hear bout it......

-these things can happen to the best of us...... as long as no one is hurt

 

Greg :(

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I havn't received any word on exactly what started the fire. All I saw was the main tank's outlet ignited releasing a jet of flame about 8ft diameter and 25 feet long. 30 seconds later tanks 20ft away started exploding. As for the release valves, I don't know, it's possible the tanks heated up too quickly and the mounting pressure didn’t give the valve time to react.

 

Hemp

hearts_fire.jpg

Edited by Jason Hemp

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Thanks Jason, I am going to pin this topic as a reminder to folks to becareful.

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damn it... it's scary.. but impressive at the same time...

 

I think this is a valuable post... and I'm happy I got the Security stuff installed on mine (flame-resistors,-.... )... so such a thing is "virtually impossible" to happen here...

 

but still... better watch out.

 

daniel

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Wow that is something no one wants to experience.

 

I have just read an artical about this. A technical university in the Netherlands, TuDelft, have developed a safer tank for storing gas. They have designed and build it.

 

It is a gas tank from rubber and fibers. It is impact and fire proof. In a fire the tank will start to melt wich will cause the tank to smoothly leak empty. It offcourse will catch fire but unlike the normal gas tank it cannot explode. Becuase the normal gas tank cannot leak the pressure will build up and eventually it will explode when heated enough.

I hope everybody will start using tanks like these soon. It is much safer.

 

the artical(in Dutch)

 

tank.jpg

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The problem with propane is that it is heavier than air. Even a slow leak can accumulate over time and form a blivet which can then explode. It is dangerous.

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That is terrifying. Last year, when the mountaintop community of Summerhaven, north of Tucson, went up in flames the firecrews all described the sounds of cabin propane tanks exploding or venting all over the area. The whole place looked like the moon afterwards. Your humble has a morbid horror of fires...

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I hear your warning onthis one as we too had a major near catasrophic petro/chemical explosion here in the uk last year.

 

A large petrol refinerey literally went BANG and carried a 20 odd mile shockwave breaking windows, shaking plaster off walls, wreaking cars and buildings and it took damn near 5 days to make it safe and shut it down.

 

The smoke was soooooo bad it could be seen on the satelite weather pictures round by the london area of the uk.

 

Pete

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I'm glad you were not hurt. When I was getting my "Tankermans Ticket", I had to go through some fire fighting courses. The subject of (BLEVE) came up. Prounounced, "blevy". Our instructor had some outstanding video of a propane tank exploding!! It was training footage, and it was real eye opening on how much damage they can do when they explode!

Try looking up BLEVE on a search engine. It'll make you think. Thanks, Willie Nappier

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20lb tank being shot on a fire:

 

20lb tank being shot cold:

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I don't have any fancy videos but a friend of mine almost lost his life many years ago using an oxygen/propane cutting torch without a flame arrestor on the propane line. The propane tank was almost empty which allowed the O2 to backflow into the propane line and into the tank itself. The flame propogated down the line and ignited in the tank when the mix was just right. When it exploded, it sheared off most of his lower face as well as his left arm just below the elbow. His lower jaw was just gone.

Edited by Tom_Malabar
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I know by the date this is a bit of a late response to the thread, but I'd like to add a comment.

 

While working at a propane deliver company, our policy for dismantling/cutting on a tank of any size was to first remove all pressure from the tank, and then remove all valves from it. Next, fill the tank with water to overflowing. At that time, if just taking it out of service, drill multiple holes thru the tank in assorted locations so there is no way for any gas to concentrate enough for ignition. Same process to cut a tank open, since folks around here like to make bbq grills from propane tanks.

 

The biggest thing to remember, there is no way to be to paranoid or careful while working with propane, or ANY compressed flammable gas.

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I am not a real fan of explosive items, just reading this spooks me.

 

I get nervous being around my air compressor when it has 150 psi built up in it. I have seen an irrigation pipe 6 feet in diameter rip through 9 feet of earth at the bottom of a hill under gravity water pressure, I have seen a grainery explode like a bomb from grain dust, I have seen many more minor explosions in my time from torch mishaps to shoddily plumbed gas lines and I do not like to be anywhere near anything containing explosive gasses or dust.

 

I guess it is safe to say I have a bit of fear of explosions....

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Look up ATLAS foundry it Tacoma WA they lost their main tank and the propane truck that was filling it the trucks axle flew 100 of feet up and landed on an overpassing freeway. Big Badda Boom

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Scary stuff, I work with explosives day in and day out. Propane scares the hell outta me. Explosives I have a respect for, and follow the rules. Propane...well it just scares me. Thanks for posting this, might save someones life.

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We USED to have propane to run the tankless water heater in our old house. Did you know that turning on a light switch can cause a spark?

 

Did you know that lathe and plaster walls are damn heavy when they fall on you?

 

Did you know it's possible to spread an 800-square foot house over more than an acre?

 

Did you know that when an entire hamlet of 900 people calls 911, the system overloads?

 

Did you know that after 2 weeks in the Burn Unit, the food gets pretty boring?

 

From what I've gathered, it was on par with an artillery strike. Broke windows a quarter mile away, and was heard 4 miles away.

 

But seriously, there were so many things that went right that night. I'm not hear to steal anyone's thunder, or to preach to anyone about higher powers, or be for or against propane. But I'm sure my family's guardian angels were working some serious overtime that night.

 

And if you do use propane (I grew up around it, and still prefer cooking with propane or natural gas to electric), PLEASE, PLEASE make sure your tanks and hoses are tested for leaks on occasion.

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I've cooked on gas all my life, and after a pine forrest fire, saw a spoon melted and 'dripping' off the stove, gas tank next to it, half full and totaly sound!just out the door a lawnmower's chassis had turned to a puddle,go figure!

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my first forge is an old out date propane tank, first I removed the valve then filled with water before cutting with an angle grinder.

 

this brings up a question, should I occasionally test my cobbled together home made propane burner for leaks?

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Tom -- There are lots of links on the forum on building good homemade burners for your forge. Geoff Keyes has some good ones. Do a google search with this in the search bar:

 

site:bladesmithsforum.com "forge build"

 

A good way to check for leaks is to pressurize the system (i.e. open the propane tank valve, but keep the forge valve closed), and liberally paint all joints with a 50/50 mix of dish washing soap and water. Any leaks will be apparent when they turn into bubbles.

 

Luck!

Dave

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thanks, ill put it on my list of periodic maintenance. I did make sure to use the gas Teflon tape and a gas rated shut off valve

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This is a little late for reply,but the best insurance is to keep it all outside. No chance of volatile gas collecting. I may be "stupid" but in my neck of the woods, the leaks on my propane forge setup don't matter because there's always a nice breeze. [The leaks are not excessive mind you,and I always pull my burner from the tank when done for the night]

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