JFRD official shares tips for avoiding propane accidents

Southside family seeks answers after propane tank explosion


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Southside family is still trying to figure out where they will live a day after a 20-pound propane tank exploded in their home, destroying it.

That tank was connected to a grill and Thursday the fire marshal is still trying to determine if it was the source of the fire or if the flames started elsewhere. The investigators said they believe the fire was accidental, and they are exploring all theories, including a possible lightning strike.

Three children inside the home made it out safely.

When it comes to propane tanks, one local firefighter said there are some things you can do to prevent an accident from happening in your home.

"I don't know if it was a freak accident," said Mark Satt, who lived at the home. "I really don't know."

While the family who lived in the home and investigators try to figure out what caused the tank to explode, Kurtis Wilson, division chief of operations with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, shared some things homeowners can do to make sure their propane tanks or grills are as safe as possible.

Wilson said the calls his department sees most often come because of leaks or issues with the fittings around the service line. He said the fittings between the propane cylinder and the service line can come loose over time.

Wilson said it's quick and easy, to check if the fittings are loose. Just take a squirt bottle and fill it with water and add a small amount of dish detergent, then squirt the valve. If the fittings are loose, a bubble will appear on the hose.

"The other great thing about propane is that it's odorized," Wilson said. "Everybody kind of knows what propane smells like, and so they do that for a reason, and that's to let you know, 'Hey, I've got a problem.'"

Wilson said another issue he sees is overfilling. Propane expands at high temperatures, and overfilling can also cause leaks.

He said keeping valves secure is still something to be mindful of, even though technology has improved.

"About 10 years ago, they changed them," Wilson said. "These are safety valves. You can open them all the way up and nothing comes out. They actually have to be fitted to a connection to be able to release propane, so the technology on the tanks has come a long way, where we don't have a lot of calls that involve these."

Wilson said one of the biggest issues they see is when people try to light a grill. He said a lot of times people will turn on the burners, allowing propane to fill up, then walk away because they forgot the match or lighter. The propane continues to build up and then they'll try to light the grill.

"Next thing you know, they're seeing burns on their face; they're seeing their hair burned (or) hands (burned)," Wilson said. "That is probably a more common call for us than structure fires due to a leaking or an issue with the tank."

Wilson also said people should be sure their propane tank or grill is outside in a well-ventilated area, and they should be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions, even if they think they've got it down.

If you think there's a problem, turn off the tank and call a repair man. If you think there's imminent danger, clear the area and call 911.