Family Shares Cautionary Tale of Propane Fire Destruction in Douglas County, Colorado

A stark reminder of the perils posed by propane fires emerges from the experience of a Douglas County, Colorado, family as they earnestly call for increased vigilance. Flipping through pictures on his phone, Joel Boulder’s tone turns solemn as he points out images, saying, “That was our home once — the grill stood there, and the deck over there.”

Marking two years since the incident in July 2021, Boulder recollects firing up his grill for a T-bone steak. “I went through my usual motions — popped open the lid, pulled out the tray, the usual,” Boulder recounted. Freshly swapping his propane tank at a local Safeway, he ignited it. “Everything seemed normal, the flame ignited just as it should,” he remembered.

But then, in a matter of moments, everything changed dramatically. “Suddenly, whoosh! Flames burst out, the cabinet doors flew open,” Boulder vividly described. Escaping with his wife and dog in the nick of time, they watched in disbelief as their residence turned into an inferno. Boulder recounted, “Within five minutes, a massive explosion shook the area, the noise was deafening, and the roof on the east side of the house was obliterated; the sound of shattering glass was omnipresent.”

Lost were their belongings and a cherished home of over 30 years. “It felt like a nightmare, but it was starkly real,” Boulder acknowledged.

Subsequent investigations attributed the cause to a propane leak. Finding a fragment from the tank, Boulder noted the manufacturing date as August 2002. Protocol demanded re-certification within 12 years, followed by renewals every five years thereafter. Yet, Boulder discovered that his tank had only been recertified once, in 2016.

Presently residing in a nearby rental home, the Boulders are working towards rebuilding their lives. Their new home will be constructed using fire-resistant materials, and they commit to using only a natural gas grill. Despite the extensive losses, Boulder is thankful that no injuries occurred and the fire’s spread was contained. “The neighborhood was spared; it could have been far worse,” he expressed.

Boulder’s mission is to amplify awareness about the latent dangers of propane tanks. “I used to believe these things were secure,” he admitted. He stressed the importance of proper usage: “It’s more than just keeping your grill clean; it’s essential to check for leaks and ensure the tank you receive in exchange is in good condition.”

The manufacturing date is typically indicated on the top of most propane tanks. Responding to the incident at the Boulders’ home, West Metro Fire managed to extinguish the blaze. Over the past two years, they’ve addressed approximately six propane tank fires, predominantly arising from leaks around fittings or within appliances, rather than originating from the tanks themselves. Leaks often result from improperly attached hoses or damage.

Safety Guidelines from West Metro Fire Rescue:

• Refrain from storing propane tanks indoors, including in garages, sheds, or vehicles.
• Limit propane usage to outdoor settings.
• Always turn off the gas supply after usage.
• To detect leaks, create a mixture of liquid soap and water and apply it to hoses and fittings. Bubbles signal a leak.
• Place your grill on a level, open surface, away from structures with overhangs, outdoor furniture, or umbrellas.
• Regularly clean your grill and the tray beneath to prevent the buildup of grease and fat.

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