FRANKLIN, NH – Investigators with the New Hampshire State Fire Marshal say the man who died in an explosion in his Franklin home basement on New Year’s Eve was cutting into a 20-pound propane tank with a power tool.
When state officials identified the victim Saturday as 44-year-old Nathaniel Krauz in a press release, and determined his death to be accidental and the result of blunt force trauma, they implied he was misusing a propane tank and cautioned the public to “use fuel containers only for their intended use.”
In an interview with District Chief Shana Clark, the office has provided additional details about how Krauz appeared to be misusing the tank.
“I’m not 100 percent sure what his goal was but it appears he may have been cutting it at the time,” Clark said.
She said Krauz appeared to be using a power tool of some kind, and she suspects he believed the tank to be empty.
The resulting explosion was determined to be a mechanical process known as a BLEVE: boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion.
“It was a pressurized cylinder and there was heat being applied just by the cutting. It caused it to rupture,” she said.
Clark said the tank only needed to have a small amount of gas pressurized inside the tank to create the resulting burst.
“When it does (contain gas), it has quite a bit of force,” Clark said.
Items in the basement were strewn about and the propane tank was found in pieces, with larger chunks in different areas of the basement. Clark said there were no signs of any ignition, which would explain why the BLEVE didn’t result in a fire.
She said authorities were first alerted to the explosion by a neighbor who heard the sound and checked on Krauz. He noticed support studs at the base of the home had been broken and saw Krauz’s body through a basement window, according to Clark.
First responders from the fire department arrived at the house at 32 New Hampton Road at about 11:30 a.m. There was no smoke or fire in the house.
Clark said she cannot speculate as to why Krauz was cutting into the fuel tank. This is the first case like this the state has encountered lately.
“This is the first one that we’ve been to certainly, in recent history,” Clark said.
Clark said it’s generally unsafe to assume a propane tank is empty even if it feels empty.
Still, popular internet forums on machine crafts and YouTube channels about building homemade items include a number of tips on ways to “safely” cut into propane tanks for a variety of purposes.
Some people apparently cut into propane tanks to convert them into homemade rocket stoves, wood stoves, air compressor tanks or smoker fireboxes.
In a YouTube video posted by homesteadprepper in 2015 entitled “How to Cut Open a Propane Tank without Blowing Yourself Up,” the man in the video recommends removing the valve first, fully cleaning the inside of the tank with water and soap, and adding dry ice to exclude oxygen from the tank in case of any residual fuel on the metal surfaces before cutting.
But even he acknowledges the process is risky and can be “fatal.”
One 2007 post on a Millerwelds.com forum puts it succinctly.
“The best advice that I can give is if you are not sure of how to do it, DON’T.”