2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

The safety of propane tanks – will they go boom?

Published: February 18, 2014, 1:19 pm, by Bill Radford

I talked with Kristin Westman of Apollo Propane in Falcon today about how things are going in terms of the Great Propane Crisis of 2014. More on that in next week’s The Country Life column. But since I was curious, I also asked her about the safety of the 50o-gallon propane tank that’s in my back yard. I’ve noticed that some folks in the country have their tanks closer to their homes and always wondered if that was a danger: Could the tanks blow up in the case of the fire? After all, I had read about propane explosions during the Black Forest fire.

Westman said any explosions were likely the result of smaller bottles of propane (like with your barbecue grill) blowing up. If heat causes the propane inside the bottle to expand too much, the valve at the top can blow off and … boom! But the bigger propane tanks, like mine, have pressure relief valves. If pressure builds up, the valve will open. Don’t be jumping over your tank at the time, Westman says, because when that valve opens you’ll probably have a big flame erupt from the top (which is why, she says, it’s wise not to have any combustibles in the immediate area of the tank.) And you’ll hear a pretty good pop when the release valve opens. But the tank itself should stay intact. “The possibility of a propane tank explosion is extremely remote,” says Propane101.com. Of the tanks Apollo inspected after the fire, there were several where the release valve had opened up, Westman said, but none where there had been an explosion, or what’s known as a BLEVE – Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion.