ESPN’s Hannah Storm gas grill accident
ESPN’s Hannah Storm was seriously injured a few weeks ago when the flame on her gas grill went out and exploded in a “wall of fire” when she tried to relight the grill. She suffered second degree burns to her chest and hands and first-degree burns to her face and neck. She lost her eyebrows, eyelashes and half her hair. If you watched the Rose parade and saw her hosting you noticed she had her left hand bandaged but otherwise looked terrific. Thanks to skilful makeup artists and hair extensions she was able to host the parade as if nothing happened.
Hannah was interviewed by ABC news and held back tears as she vividly described her terrifying ordeal. Graphic pictures of her in the hospital were shown while she was in the hospital; you could see the burn marks on her chest and neck where the flames were creeping upwards towards her face. She truly was lucky to have people home who were able to come to her rescue otherwise who know what could have happened.
The article mentions Hannah “noticed the flame on the grill had gone out. She turned off the gas and when she reignited it “there was an explosion and a wall of fire came at me.”” I underlined “she turned off the gas” because that is an important piece of information. Turning off the gas was the correct thing to do. The article is a little vague though. I don’t quite understand why she would turn off the gas and try to relight the grill with the gas off but maybe that bit of information is either lost in translation or maybe is missing a moment of time. I believe I heard Hannah state in her interview with ABC news that she waited a few minutes before turning the gas back on and reigniting the grill. If she had waited a few minutes before reigniting the grill then she followed the correct grill safety procedures gas grill manufacturer’s state to do in their manual.
Why did this happen if she followed the correct procedures?
While I can’t say for certainty why this happened there are a few reasons how this could happen and how you can look out for them yourself.
Propane is heavier than air
Today’s gas grills primarily use either natural gas or LP (propane) gas. Natural gas is cheaper than propane depending on where you live, burns cleaner than LP and is lighter than air so it dissipates quickly. LP gas is heavier than air and will seek the lowest space available like at the bottom of the fire box where the burners are. LP gas will take more time to dissipate into the air. The article states she was using a propane gas grill.
I’m assuming since it was mid-December in Connecticut that the temperature was mild to cold and air is heavier when it’s cold outside. From what I gather from the article and listening to her interview I’m assuming there was a short period of time after she turned off the gas to let the gas dissipate before reigniting the grill. In warm weather where the air is lighter the propane might take 2-5 minutes to dissipate; your manufactures manual will state to wait 5 minutes before reigniting the grill after you notice the flame has gone out. But with the colder temperature the colder air would trap the propane gas into the bottom of the fire box not allowing the gas to dissipate as quickly. However long she waited it wasn’t enough time.
Propane smell test
LP (propane) gas is nontoxic and in its natural form is colorless and odorless. Manufacturers deliberately add a chemical compound to give it that unpleasant smell. The unpleasant smell helps alert you there might be a leak. When the gas is ignited the chemical compound is burned away and is almost unnoticeable but during a leak it is clearly noticeable to the nose. If Hannah would have noticed the smell of rotten eggs before she turned the gas back on and hit the igniter she might have let the grill sit a little longer.
Why gas grill safety?
Gas grills are the most common outdoor cooking appliance today. Gas grills are increasingly replacing charcoal grills due to their ease of use and generally being easier to clean and maintain. As with any appliance an outdoor grill should be treated just like an indoor appliance. Gas grill safety should be exercised to prevent serious injury – you are after all dealing with a combustible gas and should consider the fact that you can get burned if not careful.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Home Fires Involving Grills Fact Sheet, between 2006 and 2010, US fire departments responded to an average of 8,600 home fires involving gas grills, hibachis and barbecues per year. These 8,600 fires caused an annual average of 10 civilian deaths, a reported 140 injuries and $75 million in direct property damage.
Gas grill safety tips
- Read the manufacturer’s suggested “Grill Safety” guidelines in the manual that came with the grill
- The grill should be placed well away from any structures or combustible materials
- Keep children and pets away from the grill when in use
- Keep an eye on the grill to make sure the flame hasn’t gone out. If it’s a windy day you might need to check it often.
- Keep the grill clean! Remove grease drippings around the burners and flavorizer bars to prevent flare-ups
- Keep a kitchen fire extinguisher near by
- If the flame goes out turn the gas off at the propane tank first then the turn the burners off. Turning the gas off at the tank than at the burners will allow what little gas is in the lines to escape.
- Leave the lid open to allow the gas to escape. If you keep the lid closed the gas won’t be able to escape.
- Wait at least 5 minutes before turning the gas on. If you still smell gas or rotten eggs wait another 5 minutes before turning the gas back on and reigniting the burners.
- If the smell of gas does not go away keep everything turned off and call a propane service tech or the fire dept – do not attempt to turn the grill back on.
- Replace your propane tank frequently! Propane tanks will degrade over time. Have your tank inspected when you get it filled up or better yet, exchange it for a new one.
Grilling has grown into a family tradition and an American pastime. I think we all tend to feel complacent around our gas grills because we use them so often and “nothing bad has ever happened” but gas grill safety should be considered every time we light the grill up. Like I stated in the beginning, you are using a combustible gas and should always be mindful that you can get burned so please be mindful and take precautions.
Stay safe ~ Happy Grilling!