By JEFF BURBRINK
Elkhart County Extension educator
---- — Almost everyone uses gasoline, but few people really understand its explosive potential. The automotive industry has made great effort to make the transfer and storage of gasoline as safe as possible. In fact, they have made it so safe, we take it for granted. Once the gas is in your hands, safety becomes your responsibility.
Locally, several people are seriously injured each year while burning plant debris or trash on their property. The most common mistake made is using gasoline as an accelerant. When a match or lighter is used to spark the fire, the gasoline vapors will explode. The vapors from gasoline are heavier than air. Often, when the burn pile is ignited, the person lighting the fire is unknowingly surrounded by the gasoline vapor, and is immediately engulfed in flames when the spark is struck.
Another way people are injured by gasoline is when they make torches. The torch might be for light, or to burn webbing out of trees. Just like in the movies, a person wraps a piece of cloth around a stick, douses it with fuel and lights it. When the spark comes in contact with the fumes, the gasoline explodes.
Why does this happen? Gasoline has a very low flash point, -45 degrees F, which is the temperature at which fuel will become a gas and ignite if exposed to a spark. Compare that to diesel fuel, which has a flash point of 125 degrees. In the movies, the torches are fueled by diesel or other high flash point fuels.
The fact is, a gallon of gasoline has the explosive power of 10 sticks of dynamite. Think about that the next time you are filling your car.
Just because a fuel tank is empty, does not mean it is safe. Vapors from gasoline linger quite a long time in “empty” tanks. When cutting up an old fuel tank, most professionals will fill it with water to expunge the fumes from the tank.
If you must use an accelerant to start a fire, it is best to use one with a higher flash point, like a diesel fuel. For the sake of the environment, use just enough to start the fire and try to limit the amount that reaches the soil.
When storing small quantities of gasoline or other volatile fuels, be aware of the potential for sparks in the area. Grinders, welders, water heaters, and electrical outlets can be the source of a single spark that could change your life.