Global Propane Fire in Kansas Tied to Broken Coupling

August 15, 2011

Investigators determined a fatal explosion and fire at a Butler County propane company occurred after a coupling broke, but they may never know its full cause, Andover Fire Chief Jim Woydziak said.

The Wichita Eagle reported the Aug. 2 fire and explosion at Global Propane killed Jeffrey Burnham of Wichita and injured two other workers.

The Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office is leading the investigation into the blast.

Shortly before the explosion, Burnham was working around a truck carrying 200 cylinders that are typically used to power forklifts, Woydziak said. The truck was backed into an enclosure that had three walls and a canopy. The enclosure was used to fill the cylinders from a nearby 18,000-gallon tank, he said.

As Burnham, 40, was filling one of the cylinders, something caused the coupling to come loose from the cylinder. The hose immediately began flailing around as propane spewed from the end, Woydziak said.

The enclosure was probably filled with propane when a spark ignited the gas, he said.

“By the time it sparked, it had been spewing long enough that there was probably a very large fireball right there,” he said.

The blast sent flames up to 60 feet in the air and damaged pipes under the large tank. Those pipes also began leaking propane.

“It’s very likely that nobody will ever know what caused the spark,” Woydziak said.

He said a nearby delivery truck that uses a 3,000-gallon tank to deliver propane to homes also caught fire. That tank burned throughout the night and finally went out at about 8:30 the next morning.

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