Propane leak on Joaquin at explosive levels
Often it is a simple oversight that can lead to tragedy. Last Sunday, Jan. 16, disaster may have been averted at a house on Joaquin Street when it was discovered that an open valve had been leaking propane for days.
The Mammoth Lakes Fire Department received a call from someone walking by a home on Joaquin that was emitting a strong odor, the type associated with propane. The home belongs to second homeowners and was sitting empty at the time. Since propane is an odorless gas, oil known as skunk oil is added to it, which is the smell associated with a leak explained MLFD Division Chief Bob Rooks who was the Duty Chief at the scene on Sunday.
When MLFD arrived at the home they took readings of propane levels. The levels were high enough outside that MLFD had to begin ventilating from there before entering the structure.
“We stop before the levels get into the explosive range,” Rooks explained, adding that with the levels so high outside, levels inside the home would very likely have been at an explosive range, which is between 5.4 percent and 12 percent.
“Anything less than that is too lean and anything higher is too rich [to be explosive],” he said. The levels outside the home when MLFD arrived were 50 percent of the lower 5.4 number, approximately 2.7 percent.
With high levels of propane in the air any number of things could have caused an explosion. For example, the home has a water heater with a pilot, so if that had kicked on at anytime during the leak, an ignition could have occurred, Rooks said.
The cause of the leak was determined to be a valve that had been left open. The property had once had a Jacuzzi that had a propane line feeding into it. When the Jacuzzi was removed, the line was never capped and the valve was the line’s only stop. Rooks said it looked like it had been bumped open.
The leak was thought to have been going on for several days, as the tank had been filled on Jan. 10, but was empty by the time MLFD was called on Jan. 16.