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Stored Fuel Offers A Safety Hazard
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Fuel stockpiled for emergencies can cause an emergency of its own if not stored and used properly.
As temperatures drop, many people store extra fuel for heating, grills and to run machinery such as generators. While some preparation is wise, it can be dangerous if proper safety measures are not followed.
Herb Willcutt, farm safety specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said stored fuels present safety challenges if not handled correctly.
"Use common sense and reasonable caution when buying, storing and using fuels," Willcutt said.
Willcutt had three storage tips:
- Use only approved fuel storage containers. Don't put gasoline in containers that can break, split or spill.
- Store fuels away from the house in a safe storage area with no potential fire ignition sources. These sources include gas water heaters, fuse boxes or electrical outlets that could arc in a thunderstorm.
- Keep under lock and key and away from children. They could try to start fires with the fuels or drink them.
"Only keep the minimum amount of fuel on hand for the appropriate need," Willcutt said. "Don't overfill containers or they will not have room to expand and contract."
Plastic containers approved for gasoline can flex as the fuel expands or contracts, but rigid containers should have a safety vent to release pressure caused by daytime temperature changes.
Willcutt said to remove tanks from truck beds when filling them.
"A plastic container in a pickup truck bed can build up a static charge, as can a metal can on a truck bed liner," he explained. "When you put the filling nozzle to the tank, you may discharge a spark right when you have the most fuel fumes present."
While gasoline is the most flammable and dangerous fuel, kerosene and liquid petroleum should also be treated with similar care. Have LP tanks professionally inspected periodically. Do not allow leaves and debris to accumulate around tanks.
Make sure fumes from LP tanks for grills and heaters are not venting into a closed storage space. If tanks were overfilled even slightly, they may begin venting when they warm.
"If you hear gas escaping or smell LP gas in the storage area, remove the tank carefully, connect it to an appliance that is away from any open flame and use some of the tank's contents," Willcutt said. "Or you can place the tank in an open area, away from open flame or ignition sources, and release some of the contents. Never set freshly filled LP tanks in direct sunlight."
Department of Transportation regulations prohibit transporting LP tanks of any size in the passenger compartments of automobiles, vans or sport utility vehicles. Secure and transport them in a truck bed, car trunk or strapped to a rack outside the vehicle.
Willcutt said November leads all other months in the number of fire-related deaths, followed by January and February. As cold weather arrives, people fire up fireplaces and room heaters for the first time, often without ensuring that drapes, dust buildup and any other flammable materials have been removed.
"Now is the time to perform an annual heating system check to ensure that everything is in good working order," Willcutt said. "Have the service personnel inspect gas furnaces for cracked heat exchanges, clogged air-supply vents, proper thermostat operation and properly adjusted and lit pilot flames."
Clean chimneys and flues on wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, removing any creosote buildup, leaves and debris. Ensure that there are no cracks in masonry chimneys. Check stove pipes to make sure they are in good condition.