Boiler Explosion

The title is a little misleading. The boiler didn’t explode, but there was a gas explosion while trying to light it. I got called out at 3:00 a.m. night before last in the small town where I live. A gentleman who had a bad cold or the flu, got cold and turned his boiler up to warm the house. He didn’t hear the boiler fire up, so he went to the basement and saw that the pilot light wasn’t lit. He got a lighter, and as soon as he ignited the lighter, there was a tremendous explosion. The Fire Marshalls determined that the boiler (30 to 50 years old) was leaking water, and dripped and put the pilot light out. As there were no safety features on a boiler that old, the pilot light continued to pump propane in to the basement. As soon as he sparked the lighter, it blew. Look at the picture of the front of the house…it almost blew the entire front wall of the house off. Keep in mind, the boiler was in the basement on the other side of the house. His wife should get out of the hospital today, but he isn’t doing so good…burns over 85% of his body…still in critical condition and they are giving him a 50/50 chance as of last night. Thought I would share the pics with you to emphasize the importance of safety with these older boilers and furnaces we sometimes see.

Wow, poor guy.

You’d think that he would have smelled the propane upon entering the basement…

Thanks, Jeff.

Considering all they were very lucky to be alive this Mobile home 4 miles from my home yesterday was not so lucky two fatalities burnt to the ground in less than 30 minutes had to pass right by it on my way to first inspection

Jeff i have worked on boilers older than that and still had safety features Are they sure it wasn’t tampered with ?

David, the guy had a bad cold/flu, so we are guessing that is why he didn’t smell the propane. Wayne, I don’t know about that. After something like that, we call the State Fire Marshal and they send investigators. The investigator that works our area called in their “Pressure Vessel Specialist” to investigate it, and that was his best guess, that the leak put the pilot light out and pumped the basement full of propane. I have no idea about whether or not it was tampered with…

Those are terribly tragic stories.

Were you called out as a peace officer or an inspector?

Thanks for sharing Jeff,


That is a depressing sight. Is it common to see the ATF on a house/trailer fire?


Charlie[FONT=Tahoma][size=2], I was going to give you a call this morning but I had to go out early. Glad to see that you’re still out and about. Your storm has passed my way. I had to stop my car for fear of being rolled over! My neighbor’s garage has come off the foundation and flipped over onto the roof. His car and tractor are sitting out in the middle of nowhere with all kinds of used lumber in the front yard!

Charley and Jeff, thanks for sharing. This just brings out the point that we need to drive home to clients. They need to maintain this equipment on a regular basis. Some lives may have been saved if the maintenance was performed. Sad stories indeed.

This system appears to have several newer components, including some newer piping.
Also appears to have a thermocouple or thermopile system. ( safety controls).
I have serviced many boilers of this age (50 / 60) years old and all had some sort of safety controls.
If you can, let us know what the investigators find.

Propane, being 1 1/2 times the density of air, is heavier than air and sinks to the floor. For this reason it sometimes is difficult to detect by smell.

BIA & ATF was on site Native American Reservation


Thanks Charley,

I was wondering why they were on scene.

Truly terrible situation.


Russ, the Fire Marshals are done with their investigation. They stated that they found no other propane leaks in the system, so they deduce that it had to be from the pilot light being put out by a drip from the leaky boiler. Maybe the safety measures didn’t work? I too, saw what I thought was a thermocoupler, but I am not an expert like these guys. The entire basement filled up with propane somehow…my bet, from the looks of the boiler, is that the pilot leaked.