Two people were injured Thursday in Cache County after the house they were taking care of was obliterated by an explosion. Mary Sorensen, 23, and her brother Tony, 27, had been staying in the house located in College Ward, south of Logan, while their parents are out of the country doing volunteer work.
At about 10:30 a.m., the first explosion reduced the house to a pile of rubble. A few minutes later, a second explosion started a fire. Witnesses said that flames shot 30 – 40 feet into the air and that the concussion could be felt as far as a mile away. Neighbor Brandon Anderson was at home and when he felt the explosion. He rushed to the home where he found Mary Sorensen screaming and looking for her brother. Anderson and off-duty sheriff’s deputy Shane Zilles, who was nearby and saw the mushroom cloud from the explosion, are among those who searched for Tony who was trapped inside the house. Mary was taken by ambulance to Logan Regional Medical Center and Tony was flown to University Hospital with burns over 65 percent of his body.
Although the ignition source of the explosion has not yet been identified, the fuel behind it was propane. A service technician was at the home Wednesday evening and he identified several minor leaks in the fuel line entering the house. The technician has indicated that the family told him that they would fix the leaks themselves. While do-it-yourself projects are always attractive, particularly in tough economic times, putting the repair off in this case, even for a day or less, was mistake.
According to propane101.com, do-it-yourself propane system projects pose the most important safety hazards to consumers.
Propane Repairs/System Modifications: Can I Do It Myself?
This is probably the single most important safety issue the propane industry battles on a daily basis. People constantly want to fix their own leaks or make changes to their gas system to save money or because the propane service technician isn’t available for several days or weeks. Modifications to any part of a propane system is not advisable and unsafe. All repairs and modifications to any part of a propane system should be handled by a propane company or a licensed propane gas professional. In short, performing repairs and making modifications or additions to your propane system is not advisable. You will be safer in addition to it being cheaper in the long run.
Propane System Modification
The propane industry views modifications to a propane system as "additional changes" to an existing gas system. Quite often, modifications to a propane system performed by the homeowner result in an unsafe and illegal situation. In addition to not being safe, there are many things to take into consideration before any amendment is made to a gas system. For instance, you have a room in your house that you need to put a new space heater but there is no gas valve or connection so you figure you’ll do it yourself. It’s not just as simple as getting some pipe or tubing and running the line and attaching a valve in the room for the heater. Some questions come to mind that you probably don’t know need to be answered:
- How will this new gas outlet affect other appliances when in use?
- Will the current regulator be sufficient for the total BTU load?
- Are there any permitting requirements or local codes to be complied with?
- Does the length of the pipe or tubing require a second stage regulator?
- Is the regulator designed and/or legal for fixed propane piping systems?
- What size tubing or pipe will be needed so that the heater will function properly?
- Will the propane company still fill my tank if I don’t repair this properly? What is properly?
- Are flue gases an issue? What about appliance venting and is it required?
The propane company knows how to properly make additions to the existing system so that the entire system will function properly…Let the propane professionals handle it. Also, improper installation of a piping system can result in the incomplete combustion of propane. Carbon Monoxide is a deadly byproduct of incomplete combustion and can cause death within a matter of minutes if concentration levels are high enough.
Propane Troubleshooting and Repairs
Only propane companies and professionals have access to tools and equipment that can properly diagnose and identify problems within a propane gas system. They also have the experience. Buying tools, parts and supplies from the local hardware store to make household repairs is something we’re all accustomed to because of the availability and convenience of large stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s and others. Books about hazardous and dangerous household subjects such as electricity are readily available but finding a book on propane repairs or LP Gas troubleshooting is quite difficult. The reason being is that trying to repair your own propane system isn’t advisable, nor is it safe. Some tools and parts that appear to be similar to the parts on your propane system can be readily found but if they aren’t designed for LP Gas use, they can place your family in a potentially dangerous situation.
Moving Your Propane Tank
Along the same lines of modifying your own propane system is moving your own tank. The best way to move your propane tank is by calling a licensed propane company. Although it’s not necessarily illegal to move a propane tank, the risks involved with moving it far outweigh the advantages. Too much can go wrong while using equipment such as a forklift or front-end loader to move the tank yourself. For instance, if the tank still has liquid propane in it, the lifting lugs can be damaged rendering them useless. And if the "do-it-yourselfer" goes a step further by welding on the tank, the tank may become completely unusable. Welding on any propane container is illegal unless the welding is done by a tank manufacturer or an approved tank fabrication and repair firm. If the tank rolls after hitting the ground, valves and fittings can be broken off allowing propane to vent dangerously into the vicinity creating a very hazardous situation. Too many things can go wrong by trying to move your own propane tank so be on the safe side and contact your propane company. Chances are, it will also be cheaper in the long run by doing so.
Our thoughts are with the Sorensen family and we hope for a full recovery for both Mary and Tony. Please let their experience serve as a reminder to play-it-safe and have professionals take care of potentially hazardous repairs like those needed at their home.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.