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Feb. 20, 2004

Richland Propane Explosion Still Under Investigation

A structure fire that occurred at 4357 State Route 11 in the Town of Richland on Monday, February 16, continues to be investigated by the Oswego County Fire Coordinator’s Office.

Units from the Ringgold Fire Department were dispatched at 10:48 a.m. to the reported garage fire by the Oswego County E-911 Center. Other fire units at the scene were from Mexico, Sandy Creek, Richland, and New Haven Fire Departments. NOCA Ambulance transported one civilian from the scene, and two firefighters were also treated for minor injuries.

"The exact cause of the fire remains under investigation at this time," County Fire Coordinator John Hinds said. Investigators from the Oswego County Cause & Origin Team are continuing to interview witnesses and firefighters who were on the scene.

"Based on the information we have to date, it appears that a fire occurred inside the garage a short time after a delivery of liquid propane (LP) gas to the storage tank that supplied the product to the structure," Hinds said. During the delivery, a leak in the delivery hose occurred releasing an undetermined amount of product to the atmosphere adjacent to the garage.

"At this point in time, we are theorizing that the product that escaped from the delivery hose may have entered the garage and found an ignition source such as a pilot light, electric motor, light switch, or even static electricity," Hinds continued. "The garage was occupied at the time of the delivery with both the heat and lights on.

"Earlier reports that the owner of the structure was attempting to light a furnace in the garage at the time of the fire are not accurate," Hinds said. "The exact ignition source for the fire may never be known due to the amount of possibilities present at the time of the fire.

"A possible contributing factor to this situation is the amount of snow around the garage from the extreme weather we have been experiencing," Hinds noted. "LP gas is heavier that air and tends to ‘puddle’ in low spots such as basements and ditches. We are finding that it also tends to accumulate around structures that are surrounded by high snow banks."

A fatal fire in the Town of Palermo on February 12 was caused by a leaking LP gas pipe under heavy snow pack conditions around the structure, the fire coordinator said. Another fire that caused moderate damage to a modular home on February 20 in the Town of Amboy was the result of an LP leak under the heavy snow surrounding a modular home.

Hinds urged residents to keep snow and ice away from utility entrances to their homes. "You should also be aware of the locations of emergency shut off valves, and ensure you can access them if needed," he said. "The extreme depth of the snow around structures was a contributing factor in all three of these fires."

As the temperatures are expected to rise in the coming weeks, residents are cautioned to be aware of ice and snow accumulations that may shift and possibly damage service connections to their homes.

"If you smell gas, exit the structure immediately and call 911 from another location," Hinds stressed. "The leaking gas needs an ignition source to result in a fire. Any activity within the structure could provide the ignition source, such as turning a light switch on or off, or a furnace motor starting. It is better to be safe and let the fire service investigate the possible leak."

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