A man inside a fifth wheel trailer was unhurt when a propane explosion destroyed the vehicle parked next to a home in Nanaimo.
Firefighters responded Thursday at about 2:45 p.m. to a home on Fourth Street, near Chesterlea Avenue, where they found a heavily damaged fifth wheel trailer, but no fire.
According to Alan Millbank, Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire prevention officer, the explosion was triggered by sparks in a blower fan motor that ignited a propane leak, but it was a sequence of events that set up the conditions for the explosion that was powerful enough to blow apart the back of the trailer and send its door flying several metres away to land on the property’s front lawn.
Millbank said the trailer’s previous owner had at some point replaced the unit’s propane-powered refrigerator with an electric one, but never capped off the propane line that fed the old fridge. On Thursday afternoon, a friend of the owner who was doing some maintenance work decided to test the trailer’s propane stove, which required opening the main propane line to feed the stove. After the test there was a delay while he answered a text on his cell phone before he shut off the line, which was still connected to the old refrigerator line.
Millbank said the man also mentioned his sense of smell had been damaged from working in a mill and couldn’t smell the gas flowing into the trailer’s cabin. When the trailer’s interior temperature dropped, the trailer’s heating system thermostat automatically turned on its furnace.
“He did shut the gas off, but there was enough gas left over that when the thermostat kicked in for the blower, the fan motor ignited the gas and the furnace was right next to where that line was,” Millbank said. “It was right beneath the old fridge. He wouldn’t have known.”
The propane ignition singed the man’s hair, but he appeared otherwise uninjured and the burning gas did not start any secondary fires. Millbank said it was fortunate the victim was not seriously injured.
“I think he was in a little bit of shock, myself, but he refused medical attention,” Millbank said.
A teenager who was home at the time of the incident was also unhurt.
The fifth wheel was not insured and is a total loss.
“With all these kinds of disasters it’s usually not one thing that causes them,” Millbank said. “It’s a sequence of failures that line up … it was just a matter of time before something like this happened, actually. I could have happened to anybody.”