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Exploding bottles


Hi, Does anyone actually know of anyone that had a tank explode, had
physical or property damage due to acetylene or propane tanks. I had
a small workshop of about 50 square metres in the Elephant Hills
Hotel in Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, last year. It was situated next
to the maintenance section of the hotel. Oxygen cylinders and gas
cylinders were allowed, it being workshop designated area and all.For
seven years things went well then During routine maintenance in the
laundry section, one of the maintenance dudes arc- welded into a hot
air- exhaust while the industial size tumble dryer was still
running.The resultant sparks set the thatch of the hotel roof on
fire. He did not notice, because the vent was around the corner, on
the outside of the hotel.Everybody inside ignored the fire alarms,
because the hotel maintainance was forever playing with them,-
causing the fire to go unnoticed for a critically long time…Then the
fire sprinkler system failed because there was no water in the
holding tanks.That failure became redundant when the emergency
electrical generator failed because the was no fuel in the tank to
run the diesel power plant. When power fails in a large hotel, it
becomes pitch dark inside.Panic then sets in. Then my workshop burnt
down, and I was in Botswana at the time. Halfway through the fire,
after my workshop roof had collapsed,( the fire came from the outside
) my oxygen cylinder exploded. My staff said the resultant bang made
every spectator, quote: run like hell , unquote. It was standing
next to a nine inch structuraly- reinforced wall, and it shattered
that wall from top to bottom and side to side… It blew the handles
off the roller, the roller stand level with the ground, the locking
bolts of my safe from lock to retracted.,effectively opening the
safe. ( I know, because I cut the safe open with a angle grinder,
when things had cooled down somewhat.) In effect, it pulverised the
burning workshop into small little pieces and many thing were only
recognizable after some time spent studying the torn remains. Various
steel cupboards, like my mould cupboard and polishing section I never
found, or could identify anything resembling them. Around the corner
and across the passage, even the lift doors hung drunkendly from
their cables,or hinges, or whatever they have. The oxygen bottle was
spread out flat, like a pancake. I have it here at home, in Botswana-
as a memento… On top of the hotel roof, hotel maintainance had been
working on the refrigeration system of the kitchen,and had been using
a full size Oxy/Acetylene set there, (unrelated to the fire.) It was
the acetylene bottle that was the most spectacular, ( apart from
mine, that is).It blew up before the oxygen did, and standing next to
it, sent the complete oxy cylinder through a six foot square Chilling
Unit’s radiator. Sticking out like an arrow at 90 degrees. Cause and
effect are permanent things in life. The acetylene bottle blew up,
and flew 300 meters through the air in a high arc, hitting a car that
the deputy manager had put there for saftey in a large open space…
Exactly on the drivers- side door post point first. It went through
the door and hit the steering wheel so hard that the car was
undriveable and seriously bent out of shape.Luckily he was not in the
car at the time for he would have been most grieviously injured… I
was respectful of gas bottles before, and I am even more so now, and
in the same manner my respect for fire has also been
reinforced… Hans Meevis.

    Hi, Does anyone actually know of anyone that had a tank
explode, had physical or property damage due to acetylene or
propane tanks. 

Several years ago I was working on the 5th floor in a building with a
good view all around. Across the street a man was re-tarring a flat
roof on the second floor of his building, using an acetylene torch
for melting the tar. Things got out of hand, the tar caught fire and
when I saw that I knew a big bang would be the result. The guy with
the torch happened to be the building owner and when he saw the fire
around his tank, he went back inside the building. The explosion
broke windows in nearby businesses, the tank hit an extension of the
roof facade and stayed there. The fire was spectacular and smoky but
the fire department put it out quickly.
Donna in VA


You have described an atypical version of a typical acetylene
-oxygen cylinder in a fire incident. Thatched roofs are atypical
here in the US. Generaly the incidents start from a fire around
the cylinders but not originating at a cylinder. A leak in the
Acetylene system may become involved but the reaction you describe
can develop without any preexisting leak. Cylinders are equipped with
safety devices to prevent bursting due to overpressure caused by
overfilling or slow heating by exposure to the sun, etc. Acetylene
cylinders have fusible ( woods metal melting at about 212 F) device
protection only. Actetylyne cylinders can burst or explode even
if the fusible links have released due to decomposition followed by
a fireball. Fuse plugs releasing at the bottom of the cylinder
will tend to throw the cylinder a considerable distance as a rocket
even without the cylinder bursting. When directly involved in an
impinging fire fire steel of a high pressure cylinder often weakens
with the cylinder splitting open. This happens before the pressure
rises enough to rupture the frangible safety over pressure device.
The bursting high pressure cylinder tends to throw things about
quite a bit.

I was directly involved to one degree or another in this business
area in the US for 35 years with 10 following years in a consulting
capacity to a major semiconductor manufacturer involving design and
safety issues with a number of even more hazardous gases. I
investigated “accident” incidents over this period . Incidents
were very limited at users sites generally in non cylinder
originated fires.

US cylinders are not in the same pool as EEC cylinders-- there are
different standards. I am not very familiar with these. At one time
it was a common US practice for some companies to ship old used poor
quality cylinders to South America . I believe this practice was
pretty well stopped by 1970 but??? I don’t know what the European
companies based companies practices were or are relative to third
world subsidiary companies. ???

Check for leaks , Shut off unused cylinders, don’t accept very old
or poor looking cylinders, Tie cylinders securely, and DON"T build
a fire around them.