Gas explosion raises concerns

Building safety officials think it is just a matter of time before someone is killed by a dangerous home gas installation.

Amil Stewart

Amil Stewart inspects damage to her aunt’s West Bay property after a gas explosion there injured two tenants Tuesday night. Photo: Jewel Levy

They were speaking after a gas explosion in West Bay injured two people Tuesday night, leaving one in a critical condition with third degree burns.

It’s the fourth gas explosion on Grand Cayman this year that has left people in hospital, and which Fire Services have blamed on an unsafe gas installation.

‘I think we have been very lucky that people haven’t been killed,’ said Lee Bodine, assistant building control officer with the Building Control Unit.

‘People have had third degree burns. I think it’s just a matter of time before someone gets killed in one of these explosions.’

The 32-year-old woman remained in the Cayman Islands hospital Thursday following the blast at the Watercourse Road house.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Doorly McLaughlin said the explosion ripped through an upstairs kitchen in the two-storey house, blowing out windows, melting a shower curtain and causing structural damage to the building.

Fire officers blamed the explosion on a faulty connection to a propane tank, which was located under the kitchen stove.

Mr. McLaughlin said it is against the law and extremely dangerous to store gas tanks inside. ‘It is totally illegal and a very dangerous practice,’ he said. ‘People have to exercise caution and stop using these things inside the house.’

But the accident could have been worse – inspectors were shocked to find another gas tank located by the front door – the only entrance to the building – and another underneath an electrical circuit board.

‘This is another one of these do-it-yourself jobs where people think they can just go get a gas tank and hook it up,’ Mr. Bodine said after inspecting the blast.

‘You have a source of ignition next to the gas tank. Those are the things that we need to be looking at.’

Ticking time bomb

While gas installations are required by law to be inspected and approved by the Building Control Unit, safety officials concede that most landlords, tenants and homeowners are ignoring those rules.

A recent study suggested only 1,400 of 6,000 gas installation have been OK’d by the BCU.

Inspectors hear regular reports of people keeping gas tanks inside, using incorrect fittings and even connecting gas tanks with garden hosing. They are worried they are facing a ticking time bomb.

A man was treated for burn injuries in an April blast in Northward that blew the house’s windows and doors off and lifted the roof from the belting.

‘In January, another explosion blew the door of a house about 200 feet across the street and left two people in hospital,’ Mr. Bodine noted.

He said the incidents underscore why gas installations have to be inspected and approved.

While the BCU doesn’t fine people found to have unapproved gas installations, they can face hugely expensive lawsuits if something goes wrong, Mr. Bodine warned.

‘What do you do if you are a landlord and one of your tenants is injured or killed?’

Mr. Bodine said anyone planning to install a gas system should pick up an application form from the Building Control Unit. The form details the steps people must follow to get a gas system approved.

Applications for residential installations can be processed in as little as a day and while a small charge applies, you can’t put a price on safety, Mr. Bodine said.

‘It’s a very minor charge compared to what you are getting.

‘You will be assured that you are buying the proper appliances and equipment and that it has been viewed and inspected,’ he said.

‘When things are done like that, the potential for hazards decreases 100-fold.’

‘I think we have been very lucky that people haven’t been killed,’ –Lee Bodine, Building Control Unit