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Fume Ignition

Substances such as gas, aerosol sprays and paint thinners are commonly used fire accelerants, although we may not think of these products in that light because we do not use these products to purposely start a fire. The fumes of these products, rather than the products themselves, can cause fire. Fumes may be invisible, odorless and are generally heavier than air, which means fumes will settle low to the ground. Storing products such as this anywhere close to a pilot light could have disastrous consequences.

Fire is a chemical reaction which requires three elements:
  • Oxygen- oxygen is all around us in the air we breathe. Fires require oxygen, and when there is a limitless source, fires can burn unchecked
  • Heat- electrical arc, friction or sparks are all examples of methods of heat production
  • Fuel- almost anything can provide fuel for fire, including wood, cloth or paper

When these three elements are present, fire can start. Flammable materials are materials that can catch on fire or ignite easily. Liquids can produce vapors (fumes) that, when combined with air (oxygen) can ignite. All that is required is a heat source and fuel to feed the fire.

Read examples of burn injuries and law suits resulting from fume ignition and/or explosion:

Propane Heater Explosion- New Mexico

A man camping in an RV in the winter was using a portable propane heater that attached directly to a 20-pound propane tank. Both the tank and the heater were new. After approximately 30 minutes of heating, the connection between the propane tank and heater began to leak propane. The man attempted to shut off the propane tank and received severe burns to his hands. Examination of the propane heater later revealed that a critical o-ring was missing.

Aerosol Hair Spray Burns- Arizona

A woman had used a hair spray product on her hair containing mostly mineral oils early in the morning. The product instructions stated that the product was to be left on the hair (soak) for 30 minutes. The women put her children in the car and drove them to daycare. Upon arriving at daycare, he women lit a cigarette and her hair burst into flames. The issues surrounding the case involved the labeling instructions, the flammability of hair following application of the product and the time frame of flammability, and the inherent danger of the product.

Aerosol Spray Paint Fire and Burns- Indiana

A gentleman and his wife decided to touch up the wheels of their RV using some spray paint. They decided at the same time to paint a small table and chairs for their grandchildren’s use. They planned to do the work outside, but the tools and paint were located in an unattached workshop area. The gentleman entered the workshop to gather the required tools, including the paint. As he was walking towards the door to leave the workshop, he began shaking the can of paint to mix it. Before he knew what happened, the can exploded and he was engulfed in a ball of fire. The remains of the can were examined and it was discovered that the bottom of the can had separated suddenly and completely, causing the explosion and ensuing fire. The top of the evidence can was found lodged in the workshop ceiling.


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