By KEN MATHIS JR., G7, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, Fort Rucker, Ala. October 1, 2012
It was Labor Day weekend, and I had settled into my campsite at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. As I looked around at the other NASCAR enthusiasts, everything seemed normal -- meaning everyone was drinking, smoking, grilling and carrying on. After all, that is what goes on during a race weekend, isn't it?
While making my rounds through the campsite, something alarming caught my eye. A group of spectators was staring at the charred remains of an RV. Heat from the exhaust of a generator attached to the back of the RV lit it on fire. I wondered how in the world it happened.
Let's assess the situation. Most NASCAR tracks have campsites available that require you to "dry" camp. In essence, this means you have what you bring with you. Utilities such as water, sewer and electric are not available unless you bring your own. So how do campers power a travel trailer or tent -- with a generator, of course. And keeping that generator running for hours on end requires plenty of fuel, either diesel or gasoline. Around these campsites, there's always surplus fuel around, usually in excess of 20-plus gallons per site.
Depending on the race and its venue, some people arrive a week in advance and begin camping, while others might camp for the weekend or only for a night. Campers usually store their surplus fuel in portable containers on the ground next to their generators. And don't forget about propane. In addition to grilling, travel trailers and RVs use propane to operate refrigerators and hot water heaters when the generator is off. Usually there's a spare tank or two of propane lying around the campsite too. As you can imagine, there is a lot of fuel and gas scattered across a campground. By the way, did I mention that this particular campsite was in a 75-acre grass field with thousands of other campers also dry camping? Starting to get the picture? You are camped in the middle of the traditional fire triangle -- fuel, heat and oxygen. The point I'm trying to make is this: Something that might appear harmless could actually be a powder keg just waiting for the fuse to be lit.
So, the next time you travel to a sporting event and camp for a few nights, have a great time but remain vigilant. Not everyone has your training or keen sense of awareness. Pay attention to where fuel is stored and ensure it's shielded from any possible source of ignition such as the exhaust of a generator, sparks from a campfire or ashes from that stogie you're chomping on.
It only takes a spark to get a fire going. Who wants to be responsible for starting a fire? Or worse, who wants to lose their life to a preventable accident? Fortunately, the campers around the charred RV were lucky … this time.
w/ info box below
Small Propane Cylinder Safety
• Inspect the propane cylinder for cuts, gouges, dents and rusting and replace, if necessary.
• Check hose connections for leaks by brushing a 50-50 mixture of liquid dish soap and water onto all hose connections and valves. Bubbles indicate a leak
• Always transport and store propane cylinders in an upright, vertical position in order that the safety release valve will function properly.
• Never store propane tanks indoors or near any heat source.
• When transporting a propane cylinder in a vehicle ensure the cylinder valve is tightly closed, install the threaded plug or cap on the valve outlet of the tank, secure the tank in an upright, vertical position in the passenger compartment of your vehicle, open all vehicle windows for ventilation and refrain from smoking during transportation. If transporting a propane cylinder in the trunk of a vehicle, ensure that it's well secured in an upright, vertical position and the trunk lid is left open for ventilation until your return home.
• Remove the tank from the vehicle immediately upon your return home -- heat build-up in a sealed vehicle may cause an explosion