North Tahoe Fire offers tips to homeowners using propane

Submitted to the Sun

The Sierra received remarkable snowfall in a short period of time, leading to a substantial spike in propane-related calls to North Tahoe Fire. This is not uncommon after early, heavy, and wet snowfall events and the district is sharing information on ways to prevent dangerous snow-related gas leaks. 

The series of storms in recent weeks resulted in heavy snow loading on propane tanks and plumbing systems. 

“The repetitive freeze and thaw cycles following these storms in combination with the heavy weight of the snowpack places glacial-like torsional stress on tanks and propane plumbing systems,” said North Tahoe Fire Chief Steve Leighton. “This damages pipes and valves connecting tanks to structures and appliances, causing leaks that can be hazardous. Mitigating these dangers involves time-intensive and labor-intensive commitments by fire department resources, often during times of heavy call volume.”

As tanks run dry, they can push concentrated levels of odorant to settle at the bottom of the tank and into the gas lines, which emit strong propane odors from appliances. Propane is heavier than air, settling and traveling in a manner similar to water where it can run under the snowpack undetected, following terrain features and potentially pooling under the foundations of structures. 

Propane tanks/cylinders, gas lines, and regulators and appliance vents need to be continuously maintained throughout the winter by keeping them well cleared of snow and ice buildup. 

North Tahoe Fire recommends the following: 

  • Take caution when clearing snow from roofs and protect propane tanks or cylinders, propane lines, regulators, and vents from falling snow.
  • When plowing, snow blowing or shoveling, do not push or pile snow around a tank, meter, regulator, or piping.
  • Use caution when removing snow from the tanks and cylinders, gas piping and regulators, don’t use sharp tools or force. Carefully clear heavy snow until the tank and equipment are visible, complete final clearing with soft tools such as brooms or brushes to prevent damage to equipment and components.
  • Tanks should not be allowed to run dry; doing so may require an inspection of all gas appliances before the tank can be refilled. Be sure to place refill orders before the tank reaches 30-40% and keep tanks clear of snow with a path accessible to gas suppliers.
  • Propane smells like rotten eggs, and propane leaking into snow may release more of a musty odor. 
  • Anytime there is an odor of propane or natural gas, call 911 immediately.

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