We’ve all read about people experiencing a fire that destroyed their home. If you’re like most of us, you probably think, “well, that can’t happen to me.” It’s a natural reaction. However, there’s good cause for you to remember your fire and home safety procedures, practice and training. It can happen to you – and as proof, it almost happened to me. That’s right – a gas leak nearly blew up my house!
My home is probably a pretty safe home if you were to come over to inspect it. Fire and CO alarms are in place. Fire Extinguishers are in place. Earthquake straps and putty and survival food, gear, etc. are all where they are supposed to be. It’s a two story approximately 2,200 square foot home.
This past Friday morning, as I walked down my downstairs hallway, I thought I faintly smelled gas. When I walked into the front entryway, I was sure I smelled gas, but it wasn’t a very strong smell.
Step one was to check the oven, the cooktop, and the water heater. No smell of gas. Next, I checked the fireplace. I could smell gas (again, not a strong smell), but not specifically from the fireplace.
Step two was to get all of the family (wife and two dogs) out of the house, and from there, I called the Gas Company. They told me we’d have someone there quickly. It was true. Within 15 minutes, a Gas Company truck pulled up to the house.
After a few initial questions, the gas man began walking around the downstairs of the house. We then went upstairs. We could smell gas, but it wasn’t apparent that there was a point where there was a lot of gas.
Step three included some science. The “gas man” uses a device that measures how much gas is in the air. If it doesn’t detect gas, it beeps every few seconds – beep… pause… beep.
Starting downstairs, the gas man walked around, waving the wand of his gas detection device in front of him. Beep… beep… beep… Nothing. By now, as the front door was open, the smell of gas was very faint.
The gas man then started to walk up the stairs, and that’s when the fun began… Beep… beep… and then beep, beep, beep, and as he got to the top of the stairs beeeeeeeeeeeeee. Wow, that’s a lot of gas (no jokes, please).
At this point, the gas man suggested we all wait not only outside, but across the street. I think he was within a moment or two of suggesting we have a fire company on scene. So, we went across the street feeling a bit anxious as well.
Several minutes later, the gas man walked outside and came over to us. “I found it,” he said. “It’s your fireplace.” As it turned out, the valve you use to adjust to the gas was just slightly turned – not even a quarter of a turn, but it was enough to release in excess of 30 square feet of gas per hour. Our second floor had many hundreds of square feet of gas built up – enough to blow the roof off the home and engulf the second floor in flames.
Key point: When we stood next to the fireplace, it was not readily apparent that a leak could have originated there. Yet, that was the source of the leak. If you smell gas and cannot find an immediate and obvious source of gas, get out of the house – and call the gas company. If the smell is so strong you cannot breath, or if you fear for your safety, dial 9-1-1.
The lesson of this story is that something so simple as a slightly misadjusted valve can have explosive results. Following the proper investigative steps and knowing what to do – calling the Gas Company in this case and getting out of the house – could save your property, and your life.