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Propane tanks in car sparked garage explosion

Posted May 19, 2010
Updated May 20, 2010

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— Wilson County authorities said Wednesday that two propane tanks in a car trunk inside a home garage caused an explosion Tuesday evening that severely burned a man.

Emergency crews were called to the home of Christopher Brady Watson at 7716 La Finca Road in Elm City around 8 p.m.

Watson, 40, was taken to Pitt County Memorial Hospital with third-degree burns and was later transferred to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. He was in fair condition as of Thursday morning.

Maj. John Farmer with the Wilson County Sheriff's Office said investigators traced the source of the explosion to the trunk of Watson's car.

Garage explosion still under investigation Garage explosion still under investigation

"We talked with the victim, and we don't know if it was something that he ignited himself accidentally or if it was something that he meant to do," Farmer said.

Investigators said Watson was the only person near the home at the time of the explosion. The blast blew off both garage doors and left twisted metal in the front yard.

Several homes in the area were evacuated as a precaution.

"It could have been worse," neighbor Donald Battle said Tuesday evening. "It could have been worse. Thank God it's not as bad as it could have been."

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  • gunny462 May 20, 2010

    Any number of things could have happened. But you can say that there definitely was a presence of propane gas in the garage and something ignited it.

    Cheap theory? The tank valve was partially open, venting gas and he walked in and his clothing (static electicrity) sparked it.

    Cheaper theory still? He wanted to die.

  • bobbythreesticks May 20, 2010

    Mud, not exactly. Have you ever ignited black powder out of a shotgun shell or similar casing? The enclosure is the important part so pressure can build. If no pressure, it just burns, same with propane. If all the propane leaked from a typical container and ignited in openspace, it would have burned the house down, not just an explosion.

  • wildcat May 20, 2010

    This man is lucky to still be living. May we all learn from this. Keep things like that away from you and your home. Be safe.

  • UPTOP May 19, 2010

    Things could have been worse, He's lucky to be alive !!

  • MyNameIsMud May 19, 2010

    "Propane tanks have pressure releases so that they will not explode. Even if the propane tanks were leaking and the exiting gas was ignited, there is no way they would explode unless they have been tampered with and the saftey pressure release was removed."

    The tank is irrelevant once the contents leak out. Where they leak becomes the "tank", in this case the car trunk or the garage. All that is needed is the ignition source--something as simple as the electric door lock.

  • Adelinthe May 19, 2010

    Heat inside the truck of the car could have caused the propane to expand; the pressure relief valves should have taken care of that by expelling the extra propane, but then if someone started a vehicle or piece of equipment nearby, the spark from their ignition could have made the whole thing go.

    Propane vapor is heavier than air, therefore it will always sink to the lowest level nearby.

    God bless.

    RB

  • forensics May 19, 2010

    Propane tanks my not likely explode but it is possible but not probable with the safety devices in place. We do not know what size tank it was. Was it a common 20# tank like for a grill or was it a smaller disposable tank? If it were a 20# tank and it actually exploded, there would be far more damage (the house probably would not survive). It was likely the ignition of propane vapors inside the car itself.

  • bobbythreesticks May 19, 2010

    Propane tanks have pressure releases so that they will not explode. Even if the propane tanks were leaking and the exiting gas was ignited, there is no way they would explode unless they have been tampered with and the saftey pressure release was removed.