Gas Grills and Propane Tanks

It’s summertime and, unfortunately for the victims, a busy time for bio-hazard and accident cleanups for Advanced Bio Treatment. We’ve recently posted articles on some summertime safety issues, linked below.

With summer comes very warm weather, which heats our parked vehicles to life-threatening temperatures in a matter of minutes, making those vehicles death traps for children and pets left inside, even for just a few minutes. To learn more about the dangers of hot cars, please click here and read our blog about the tragic victims of vehicular heatstroke.

With summer also come holidays like July 4th, Labor Day, and outdoor graduation and birthday parties at which people like to celebrate with fireworks. Please click here to read our blog about devastating fireworks accidents and fireworks safety.

Warm weather also brings us outdoors to swim and to cook on gas grills, most of which are fueled by propane tanks.

Facts about Gas Grills and Propane Tanks

  • The National Fire Prevention Association reports that there are 7,000 gas-grill fires every year, many from leaking propane.
  • The most common mistake people make is leaving the grill cover down when they turn on the gas and hit the igniter. The grill quickly fills with gas and explodes when it makes contact with the flame.
  • Seventy-six percent of Americans own a propane gas grill.

Roger was one of those Americans.

Even Grill Masters Make Mistakes

He lived in the second unit of four connected townhomes in a community of over 200 townhomes organized into connected groups of four and eight. The townhome to Jim’s right was occupied by a young married couple who were expecting their first child at the end of the summer. The townhome to his left was occupied by Roger’s good friend Jim, whose two kids, ages 8 and 11, were visiting for the weekend. A retired couple and their dog lived in the townhome next to Jim’s. The families were all good friends, and they all planned to get together Saturday night grill out at Roger’s.

But the Saturday-night festivity never happened.

Like many of the homeowners, Roger had a propane gas grill on his small concrete patio. Being the legendary grill master of the community, he enjoyed cooking for the neighbors every weekend.

He therefore kept a spare propane tank in the tiny attached storage shed less than five feet away from the grill and less than a foot away from the exterior wall of his dining room.

A few hours before the get-together, Roger was inside napping on this extremely hot afternoon. Jim and his son were in the backyard throwing a football, and Jim’s daughter was inside watching TV. The retired couple were relaxing on their patio. Mom-to-be was in the upstairs nursery putting the finishing touches on the blue-and-white curtains she had just made.

And then a massive explosion blew apart all four townhomes and the lives of everyone who lived in them.

Roger’s grill was not lit. The gas was not on. His mistake? Storing a tank full of propane gas in a small, poorly ventilated shed that reached excessively hot temperatures on this day in the middle of July. The fire-marshal’s investigation concluded that the liquid inside the tank expanded, the relief valve on the tank could not vent the fuel quickly enough, and the tank exploded.

When we arrived on the scene, Roger’s townhome was burned to the ground.

We learned that he was killed instantly. The townhome to his right was also a crumpled pile of charred wood, and the young mother-to-be and her unborn child died on the way to the hospital. The father-to-be survived because he was at the store picking up steaks for the cook-out when the explosion happened.

The other two units were badly burned but still standing. The retired couple were both in intensive care with third-degree burns and severe cuts from the shattering glass door, and they lost their beloved dog in the fire. Jim and his 11-year-old son survived with minor burns and cuts and were released from the hospital the next day. Jim’s 8-year old daughter died in the same hospital three days later.

What You Should Know about Propane Gas

  • Propane is heavier than air and therefore does not dissipate quickly. It lingers in and around the grill or area of a leak.
  • When the flame goes out on a gas grill, the propane is still releasing even though you can’t see and often can’t smell it.
  • Propane is odorless in its natural state. Propane manufacturers add an odor, which smells like rotten eggs, to propane so that it can be detected, but many people do not smell it because of the phenomenon called “odor fade,” which occurs because the chemical used to create the odor dissipates within a few days after the tank is filled and may be completely undetectable in three weeks.

Safety Tips for Propane Tanks and Gas Grills

  • Never use or store gas grills in an enclosed space.
  • Always keep the propane tanks in an upright position.
  • Never store spare propane tanks under or near gas grills.
  • Never leave propane tanks in a closed vehicle.
  • Keep propane tanks in a ventilated area.
  • Never expose propane tanks to high temperatures or direct sunlight.
  • Never store propane tanks in excessively hot areas. When propane tanks get hot, the gas expands. The tank then “vents” the gas into the surrounding environment. If ignited, the gas will cause a catastrophic explosion.
  • Keep gas grills at least three feet away from your house.
  • Before using your gas grill, spray all your hoses and connections with soapy water. Bubbles mean that you have a gas leak.
  • Never turn on the gas or light the grill with the cover closed.
  • Light the grill immediately after turning the gas on to minimize potential gas build up.
  • If the grill doesn’t light right away, don’t keep trying. Turn the gas off and wait about five minutes to allow accumulated gas to dissipate.
  • Move hoses as far away from dripping grease as possible.
  • The burner flame should be blue. Yellow flames indicate that air inlets are obstructed or that burners need to be adjusted. Call a certified technician if you see a yellow flame.
  • Keep pot handles on the grill turned inward to avoid accidental hot spills onto the propane tank.
  • Never cover the bottom of gas grills with foil because the foil can restrict air circulation.
  • Never leave cooking food unattended.
  • Keep flammable material away from gas grills.

We are Advanced Bio Treatment. We are here for you 24 hours every day of the year. Should you need our services, please call us at 800-295-1684.

Grilling Safety Resources:

National Fire Protection Association – Grilling Safety

Propane Gas Association Of New England – Propane Basics

William Kherkher Attorney’s At Law – Propane Tank Dangers


Related Reading:








Ted Pelot Owner & President of Crime Scene Cleanup Company - Advanced Bio-Treatment