Even though exploding propane is etched into the memories of many after an explosion on South Division St. in Buffalo killed 7 people - including 5 firefighters - in 1983, residential explosions are less often linked to that fuel than others.
And yet as neighbors in the Niagara County town of Wilson found out earlier this week, the apparent connection can be dramatic and deadly.
(WBEN/AP) Investigators in Niagara County may be looking at a propane tank as a possible cause of the explosion that leveled a two-story house in a rural part in Wilson on Tuesday, killing a 14-year-old girl and injuring her parents and two siblings, authorities said.
Sarah Johnson was killed in the blast that leveled her family's Chestnut Rd. home Tuesday. The sheriff's office said homeowners Jody and Judith Johnson, their 16-year-old son, Nathan, and 18-year-old daughter, Katie, were apparently thrown forward toward the road and survived.
Jody Johnson told investigators they had detected an odor of propane a day earlier, but it was unclear what action was taken, if any, Niagara County Undersheriff Michael Filicetti said.
"It is important for people to have their energy systems, whether it's propane or natural gas checked periodically... If you smell something, or you think something isn't right, get a hold of your supplier," says Michael Meath of the New York State Propane and Gas Assoc, an industry association.
Adds Dan Neaverth Jr., the Erie County Commissioner of Emergency Services: "By design, the smell, the hissing, that's the warning sign."
Typical 500 gallon tanks can be seen behind most any home in the area, and one neighbor tells WBEN that in recent weeks National Fuel Gas had surveyed area residents on interest in possibly running lines to the rural area.
The blast in Wilson was the second large house explosion in Niagara County in this past year and one of several in recent years.
A month earlier, a man later found to be suicidal, a few months earlier opened a natural gas valve inside his home in the Sheridan-Parkside area of Tonawanda and his house exploded.
Nationwide, more people use natural gas, and accordingly it is a factor in more fires, according to the US Fire Administration.
U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 2,110 home structure fires in which natural gas was the type of material first ignited and 1,170 in which material ignited was LP-Gas in 2003-2007.
Nationwide, 1.72 million homes use propane for heating, roughly 25 percent of the rural population.
A 2010 study by the National Fire Protection Assoc. found Natural Gas ignited most often at a stove, and Propane more often at a Grill.
|Fires||Civilian Deaths||Civilian Injuries||Direct Property Damage||Leading Equipment Involved*||Leading Area of Origin*||Major Factor*|
|Natural Gas||2,110||43||152||$59 million||Stove||Kitchen/ Cooking Area||Leak Or Break|
|1,170||34||135||$48 million||Grill, Hibachi or Barbecue||Kitchen/ Cooking Area||Leak or Break|
Estimates are derived from the U.S. Fire Administration National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) Version 5.0 and
*- NFPA’s annual fire department experience survey and the National Fire Protection Assoc. 2010 study on Gas and Propane Fires