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Propane Tanks

2015-napinterrupted-propane-tank-photo
Courtesy of NapInterrupted on Flickr

Generally speaking the large propane tanks that fuel your home are not a threat during a wildfire if they are properly maintained and kept clear under and around the tank.
The potential for propane tanks to be a problem mainly comes from the small barbecue propane tanks.

Barbecue Grill Propane Tanks

Barbecue tanks are usually in the barbecue near a structure. People sometimes forget and leave the propane left turned on.
This means they may get sufficient heat to melt the rubber hose in the event the structure ignites. This can cause fuel to escape and ignite, further feeding the fire.

Explosion Potential

The potential for an explosion increases with time with distance. Enough heat exposure, long enough, and close enough, can cause the tank to rupture.
During a wildfire or structure fire, propane tanks will only blow with direct flame impingement that is long enough to heat the tank cherry red and rupture the tank.

Pressure Relief Valve

The second thing that would cause a propane tank explosion would be if the pressure relief valve is damaged and won’t open. 
These tanks will usually only blow if they don’t vent sufficiently which is why the vent system is so critical.
Given enough time exposed to radiant heat that is close enough can cause issues if the vent won’t open.
During a wildfire or structure fire, propane tanks are designed to vent so they don’t burst or explode. The vented fuel will catch fire if near an ignition source as would be the case in a fire.
Leaving that fuel burning is intentional since unconsumed fuel can travel and ignite.
Radiant heat will rarely be long enough to cause an explosion.
Nevertheless, conditions can occur where this is a potential threat. 

Maintain Your Propane Tanks

Use common sense.

  • Keep you barbecue propane tanks shut off when not in use.
  • Keep them away from combustibles and structures if you can.
  • Have your pressure relief valves checked regularly.
  • Never overfill a propane tank as this could cause venting on a hot day.
  • Store any unused tanks away from structures and combustibles.
  • Keep your main tank clear of all combustible fuel for at least 15 feet.
  • Maintain proper clearance.

More tips here.

Propane Leaks

Propane fuel is heavier than air and sinks. The fuel will travel downhill until it ignites if the leak is fire caused or dissipates.
In a fire there really isn’t a problem provided you have clearance around your propane tank, no nearby ladder fuel, and do keep grass cut around and under the tank even though grass can’t do much with low flames and low intensity. Grass will burn itself out before it can do much.
Leaves, brush, manzanita, wood structures, all can burn, and can get hot enough to vent the tank and ignite the fuel.
Properly maintained home fuel propane tanks and barbecue propane tanks in a wildland fire are usually not a problem with a few common sense maintenance steps.