Seeley Lake, MT – Tuesday night, Jan. 21 the Seeley Lake Fire Department was paged out to a structure fire on Leota Peak Court. When Fire Chief Dave Lane arrived, the family was outside. They explained that there was a propane explosion. No one was injured and while the house is a mess and needs repair work, it is livable.
Lane said when the snow slid off the roof, it hit the regulator for the propane tank. The fitting failed and the propane leaked and entered the house through an open vent. Since propane is heavier than air, it followed the path of least resistance and sunk. The way the house is configured, it funneled the propane into the floor of the second story and downstairs to the furnace.
“It filled the first floor with propane and the ignition source [furnace] initiated a propane explosion that separated the front wall of an addition to the house,” said Lane. “All of the sheet rock on the ceiling on the first floor was blown out.”
Luckily the two homeowners were outside of the house when the explosion occurred.
The family’s neighbor, a retired long-time firefighter Robin Diamond was already on scene when Lane arrived. The homeowner had turned the propane tank off and the propane company was enroute.
Lane noticed there was lot of smoke in the house. Diamond had found a small fire on the second floor behind one of the heaters. They were working on trying to figure out how to get that out.
Lane returned with the homeowner to the outside of the house. As he was looking at the fittings on the wall, he could see fire coming around the corner to that area. Lane said it only lasted for a second or two in the snow indicating there was still propane that hadn’t burned.
He went around the corner and found a small vent where the propane had entered the structure and went down into the floor. When the propane exploded it blew into the floor, under the stem wall and started a fire in the floor joist. They removed part of the floor and sheet rock to fully expose the area and extinguished it with water.
In addition to Lane, four volunteer firefighters responded. Due to the slippery road conditions, the large structure engine got stuck enroute to the fire and needed to be pulled out. No damage was done to the engine.
The all-wheel drive large Type 2 tender made it to the fire and the three volunteers were able to pull hose from it to extinguish the fire.
“Things happen but we are going to talk about it and learn from it,” said Lane. “The volunteers did well. They followed direction. They didn’t freelance.”
Lane encourages everyone to pay attention to where the snow goes when the roof slides in relationship to their propane tank. In this case, the fittings were under the roofline. The homeowners had never had a problem before, but this time, when the snow on the roof slid it hit the snow pile and bounced back to break the fitting. If this is possible, Lane recommends creating a barrier for the snow so it can’t hit the propane tank fittings.
Lane also recommended if someone smells propane they need to exit a structure and call for help.
Lane said, “In this case, the homeowners were very lucky.”