Thursday, March 23, 2023


Service attendant overfills propane tank, RV almost goes up in flames

By Randall Brink
Many years ago, I fueled my Class C motorhome at a service station and convenience store that also sold LPG, aka “propane.” I liked the idea of being able to fill both the gasoline and LPG/Propane tanks at one stop.

The attendant seemed a little apprehensive at the prospect of filling the propane tank. She had some difficulty getting the delivery nozzle attached to the coach tank and admitted that, even though the station owner had “trained” her on the procedure, she had never filled a propane tank before. I was a little concerned, but not enough to say that I would fill the LPG elsewhere, and she filled the tank until the gas blew past the delivery nozzle. She shut down the LPG pump, we went inside to process the payment, and in a few minutes more, I was on my way eastbound on the Interstate.

I climbed a pass in northern Idaho and was headed for another, longer and steeper one up ahead when all hell broke loose. There was an explosive “POP” followed by the immediate odor of propane. The motorhome cabin was filled with it. I pulled over and evacuated myself and the dog, coughing, onto the shoulder of the road as the propane began to dissipate. We hadn’t blown up; there was no fire. But it is a miracle there wasn’t, with that much propane released into and around the coach. The tiniest spark would have created a conflagration. The cause: overfilling of the LPG tank. The station attendant had not shut off the fuel delivery at the required 80 percent of tank capacity to allow for expansion.

We were lucky and, afterward, I studied the propane tank and distribution system in order to understand how it should be properly serviced and operated. I had been complacent and narrowly averted an explosion and fire.

A few years passed. I upgraded to a big newer Class A motorhome with all the complex systems amenities. And, I again fell into an attitude of complacency about the hazards of LPG storage, use, and transport. I traveled with the coach propane valves open because I wanted the convenience of keeping my two-way LPG refrigerator cold while on the road. I read all of the “lore” online about how everybody does it and never had a problem. I also found that I frequently forgot to turn my LPG gas range pilot light off before getting underway. So, in addition to the supply of propane gas entering the coach, there was also a nice little blue flame flickering away in the oven while bouncing down the road.

Photo Credit: Spokane Valley Fire Department

Then there was a rash of RV fires in the news. 

It seemed as though, for a while, every time I read an RV-related news site, there was a picture of a coach engulfed in flames. There are, on average, 20,000 RV fires every year. Mishaps seem to occur in clusters, but these regular reports of catastrophic fires piqued my interest, and I began investigating. It turns out that a high percentage of fires that start in RVs on the road are fuel-related or electrical in origin. Or both. What was happening?

There were a lot of fires that started in the refrigerator compartment, at the confluence of electricity and LPG. Some started in gas ranges. A number of fires flared up in engine compartments, also fuel related. So, again, I arrived at the conclusion that a motorhome operator must be more aware of and cautious with fuels.

One might wonder why anyone would be cavalier about the hazards of combustible fuels. In my case, I felt it might be because I spent fifty years flying around at 40,000 feet in a metal tube filled with people, fuel and oxygen. Commercial aviation technology is so advanced that there is never – well, almost never – a problem. Perhaps I transferred my trust in technology and safety systems to my motorhome. But those photos of coaches burning at the roadside could not be denied. They changed my thinking and ways.

The first thing I did was to turn OFF my LPG tank valves. I’ll turn them back on when I’ve parked at camp and then turn them back OFF again when getting underway. It seems like a simple, smart move to immediately reduce the risk of a propane fire by a significant percentage. With respect to my fellow road captains who continue to run with the propane ON, I have decided it is not worth the risk. I keep a few frozen “Ice Paks” in the basement deep freeze and put one or two in the refrigerator and one in the freezer while underway. If necessary, I can put the frozen food in the deep freeze down below. It runs on 12-volt DC power.

I keep my oven pilot light OFF and light it when I want to use the oven. That way, the pilot is not burning at night. It is not burning when I am away from the coach. It is not burning when I am driving down the road.

Also, I created a checklist for getting underway: LPG Tank Valves OFF, Range Pilot Light OFF, LPG Detector ON, etc. In addition to increasing safety, the checklist provides peace of mind when rolling down the road, (i.e., no more: “Did I turn that pilot light OFF?”)

And finally, I fill LPG tanks at wholesale distributor facilities, where the personnel are well-trained and knowledgeable, and the delivery equipment is top-tier.



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3 months ago

I know this is an older article but we had a situation identical to the author’s. We stopped at a Tractor Supply to have our motorhome’s ASME tank filled. The attendant, who had to be all of 17, hooked up the hose and let ‘er rip. I wondered why he didn’t open the vent, my bad but in all honesty at that time I was unfamiliar with the process.
About an hour later driving down the road we heard a BANG and “whooossss-ing” sound. I thought I blew a tire but did not. Never smelled any propane, but I’m sure the expansion valve tripped and dumped some propane.
I like the idea of installing an inverter to power the fridge while underway, I might have to look into that.

10 months ago

There are links in the comments that take the reader to a 2017 chart published by PHMSA about requalification of portable propane tanks. The 2017 chart states at 10 years the tank must be recertified. This is outdated info. As of October 2020 the rule was changed back to 12 years. Here is the link from the NPGA announcing the change.The National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) reports that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) of the Department of Transportation (DOT) has approved NPGA’s petition on the requalification of DOT-specification cylinders by hydrostatic testing, also known as the volumetric expansion testing method. This action, announced by PHMSA in an Oct. 30, 2020, final rule, returns the requalification period to 12 years. I have contacted PHMSA to update their chart.

Thomas D
10 months ago

Blew a tire thar knocked off the line to outdoor grill. Excess flow shut off system as designed. No big deal.
My advice learn how to fill tanks, all kinds. You will not be allowed, but you will see when someone doesn’t do it right and stop them from continuing. If it’s wrong tell them to stop and drive away.

Gene Bjerke
10 months ago

If you have a three-way refrigerator, once it is chilled down, it will hold its temperature under DC while you are driving down the road.

Leonard Rempel
10 months ago

After nearly 10,000 miles on the road this winter in our 2020 Montana, my propane feed line to my fridge broke. When the fridge called for spark to start when we were parked, it started a fire at the back of the fridge. I did catch it in less than 30 seconds and put it out. Thankfully we only lost the fridge. After my research of how many RV fires are caused by these propane fridges, I said “That’s it, not ever again for me!”
In Shipshewana now to convert the fridge to a full DC residential fridge. There is a refrigeration place here that specializes in these conversions.
I consider myself very lucky that all it will cost is some money.

Last edited 10 months ago by Leonard Rempel
Glen Cowgill
10 months ago

A few years ago, traveling north in Utah on the Interstate, I hit a tire carcass from a semi in front of me. The impact of the carcass took out the propane line set up for the barbecue which emptied the tank on the motorhome. Lucky, no fire.

Vanessa Simmons
1 year ago

I run my fridge off my solar when I run down the road so no need for propane.

1 year ago

Filling a propane tank is different than a MH propane tank. There are many places that will fill the tanks but not those attached to RVs. As for oven pilot light – mine is never lit until I am ready to use the oven. Why waste the propane plus too much of a chance it will go out then leak propane.

Dennis G
2 years ago

Filled BBQ and RV tanks back in the 80’s, when I wasn’t even 18 years old. Received 5-10 minutes of training on, adapter use, how to fill, where to stand, wear gloves, and to protect from frostbite.
Luckily, I never made a bad mistake. Sadly, the last time I had the RV tank filled the “trained” personnel filled via the ASME tank gauge, and not by the bleed valve. Of course they will not accept sound advice, so will be looking for a new LPG fill location.

2 years ago

Here is the Link from DOT (Department of Transportation) concerning DOT CYLINDERS (not tanks):

Should be part of your Inspection process, especially before taking the CYLINDER to be refilled!


Last edited 2 years ago by Really
E gar
2 years ago

I can’t stand when seasoned RVers say it’s okay to travel with the propane on and play it up to ‘stories’ or ‘hysteria’ with no pictures of evidence. Witnessed a travel trailer and vehicle go up in flames in AZ. Few hours later there was no vehicle or travel trailer. No clue if everyone survived. Not a situation I thought to pull out my phone it was so shocking. It’s dangerous to everyone on the road. My kids and dogs lives are not worth keeping the chicken salad in my fridge cold. We full-time RV and have never traveled with propane on or had our food go to waste. People can be so {bleeped} selfish and senseless. I hope more states make it illegal to travel with propane on and people get charged for endangering others.

2 years ago
Reply to  E gar

I would love to see the data on how many RV fires were caused by the propane being left on for the fridge and what the ignition source was.

Its like fires at gas pumps caused by smoking or cell phones there is very little, now the fires caused by said people who do no discharge the static electricity from themselves is considerable.

1 year ago
Reply to  Gordy

Cell phones do not start fires. This is an urban myth. There must be a spark or some type of combustion or heat for ignition. A cell phone has no parts that would generate a spark or any other type of ignition source.

10 months ago
Reply to  Tom

You are correct, the leading cause of fires while fueling is from static electricity caused by, #1 people entering and exiting the vehicle during fueling and #2 filling portable containers without removing them from the vehicle and placing them on the ground. The same people who do this will look in horror at someone using a cell phone while fueling.

10 months ago
Reply to  Brian

Hmmm? I wonder why the gas pumps have notices on them about cell phone use when refueling. ?

10 months ago
Reply to  DW/ND

Not because of fires, the American public is sorely uninformed. It also says not to re-enter your vehicle during fueling but how many people actually know that? Most still believe a cell phone will do it and have no clue of the true reason for fires at gas pumps.

This is from the Petroleum Equipment Institute:
Are Cell Phones Responsible?
No. We have not documented a single incident that was caused by a cellular telephone.
Cell phones continue to be cited as causing fires at the pump in e-mails circulating on the Internet. So far, we have been unable to document any incidents that were sparked by a cellular telephone. In fact, many researchers have tried to ignite fuel vapors with a cell phone and failed. 
PEI still advises against using any electronic device that might distract the motorist during the refueling process.

Static Electricity is the leading cause for gas pump fires as explained by the PEI at this link:

Last edited 10 months ago by Brian
Rodney Lacy
10 months ago
Reply to  DW/ND

So you will pay attention to what you’re doing instead of talking.

Tim Slack
2 years ago

After forgetting a few (fortunately non-critical) items before leaving a site, I created two lists in the ‘Notes’ app of my iPhone… similar to a pre-flight list. One is ‘departure’ checklist, the other ‘setup’. Now I just have to remember to run the lists!

Randall Johnstun
2 years ago

For what its worth, propane becomes explosive at about 96% oxygen, and 4% propane. Also when propane is released from it’s container it expands 300% from liquid to gas. One gallon of liquid equals 300 gallons of gas vapor.

2 years ago

Guess I will keep pushing the envelope, as I like my fridge to stay cool.
On the flip side I do not leave pilot lights on.

Tim Bear
2 years ago
Reply to  Gordy

…but all those potential spark sources… 🤭😳

2 years ago
Reply to  Tim Bear

Well I guess we shouldn’t drive cars and trucks speaking of time bombs and sparks. 😳🤔

2 years ago
Reply to  Gordy

What kind of rig do you have ? I want to be far away from you. A potential bomb traveling down the road!!!

2 years ago
Reply to  Gary

Pretty much any rig that has a dual refrigerator.

Full Timer Mark
2 years ago

When I setup my 5r at a new campsite I open the propane doors and use a bungie to keep them wide open just in case a leak ever develops. This enables extra venting should a leak develop. I too had an overfill by an inexperienced attendant once. IMMEDIATELY REPLACED TANK! A future valve “popoff” is the risk if the tank is not replaced (which sounds like what happened in this article). That puts you at risk between fills and all future propane attendants at risk who fill the compromised tank or tanks. It may also play havoc with your main and low pressure valves in you propane system. Replacing a tank is safe cheap insurance!

1 year ago

You might notice that your propane storage area does not have a bottom. That is because propane is heavier than air and will simply “fall out” of the area if there is a leak. In many areas (maybe all), it is illegal to close off the bottom of the tank area.

2 years ago

My wife and I formerly owned a Campground/RV park in southern Minnesota. We filled many propane tanks, from 20 & 30 pound to motorhome. Hated to do the motorhomes at first but after a short while got very comfortable doing it and never forgot what I should be doing when. Never forgot to open the bleeder valve on a MH or date on the tanks. When the new law went into effect concerning tank dates a lot of campers were very upset when told they could not be filled, even got threatened a time or two but never gave in.

Dawn Nelson
2 years ago

Some comments I’d like to make. As a previous propane delivery person, we NEVER trusted the valves or the gauges on propane tanks, as they often failed. The way to fill them is to make a secure connection, open the bleeder valve on the tank, and begin filling. When you begin to see liquid product escaping, from the bleeder valve, start feathering the fill. As soon as the escaping liquid becomes a solid stream (not bouncing from nothing to something while the flow is turned off) stop filling, close the bleeder valve, disconnect, and turn off the pump. I drove around in a 3500 gallon propane tank on wheels, and filled everything from the small barbecue tanks, to the big 1000 gallon ones, and we filled ALL of them this way. We had a special low flow connector for the smaller tanks. Make no mistake, propane is VERY VOLATILE. In the year and a half I did the job, there were multiple incidences in the business, which is why I don’t do it anymore.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dawn Nelson
2 years ago
Reply to  Dawn Nelson

Dawn – wouldn’t you want to turn off pump sooner than you described ? Thanks

Randall Johnstun
10 months ago
Reply to  Roy

On the delivery truck I drove the pump was at times over a hundred feet from where I was fueling, the shutoff valve at the nozzle was sufficient.

Thomas D
2 years ago

First clue would have been, she didn’t know how to get the filler onto the tank. Time out. Get someone else who does. Little girl, put down the phone and pay attention to the person telling (training you) how to do it. Nobody has ever filled my tank and asked ” is your refrigerator and water heater off? ” The tank is supposed to shut off the flow of gas when it’s full (80%). I’d say there’s something wrong with the tank. Better yet, my neighbor has a Newell Dutch Star. No propane at all.

2 years ago

I fill my own 30 pound cylinders from my home 500 gallon propane tank. Even tanks with the OPD valves can be overfilled. I vent the vapor as I am filling to get a visual when full (liquid starts spurting out at the 80% full level). I got distracted once and when I returned to my tank, it was over full. I had to release gas (or liquid in this case) for quite a while until it dropped to the 80 % level. There is supposed to be an automatic shut off valve inside to shut off the flow when full but it didn’t work in my case.

Tommy Molnar
2 years ago

“And finally, I fill LPG tanks at wholesale distributor facilities, where the personnel are well-trained and knowledgeable, and the delivery equipment is top-tier.”

This would seem to be a no-brainer but just last week I took a tank to the local Ferrell propane store and had my upright tank filled. It looked to me like the “factory trained expert” overfilled my tank. 30 years ago I worked for the now defunct propane company, Petrolane. I know a few things about propane . .

When I got my tank back to my trailer, sure enough it was overfilled. Nothing would work. I unscrewed the part that lets propane out and let it ‘blow’ for about 15 seconds. Problem solved. And yes, I did muscle the tank to a spot where the downwind movement of my throwaway propane wasn’t going to cause a problem. So much for “factory trained experts”.

I also had a ‘discussion’ with this same expert on whether my tank needed to be re-certified in 10 or 12 years.

2 years ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Propane Tanks need to be inspected every 10 years from FIRST DATE of Manufacture. After that inspection, every 5 years.
On the other hand, ASME Tanks (in motorhomes) have No Inspection requirements!

James Shoe
2 years ago
Reply to  Really

From Ferrellgas website

How long are propane tanks good for?In the United States, a bottle is qualified for 12 years from the date of manufacture, while in Canada it’s good for 10 years. A recertified tank is good for 5, 7, or 12 years, depending on the method and type of recertification. 

2 years ago
Reply to  James Shoe

Actually your information is WRONG! It changed sometime back. Used to be 12 years, NOW it’s 10 years from date of manufacture. And after researching the information, there is allot of wrong information out there!

Here is the Link from DOT (department of transportation)!

Being a Certified Propane Handler in my State, I do know the rules.

And they are called DOT Propane Cylinders, since they are used in RV’s that travel the US Highway system!

Read this PDF file and see what will make DOT Cylinders become disqualified to be refilled. People who Refill these Cylinders should be looking for any defects, especially RUST around welding points on the CYLINDER! I have Disqualified a number of tanks and unfortunately P’d Off people. But, I’m sure they just went down the road to someone else and had the CYLINDER refilled.


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