Troubleshooters: Consumer has cautionary tale about fire pit safety after propane tank leak

"Flames started shooting out from places where they shouldn't be," Gary Frisch said.
LAUREL SPRINGS, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Many people are using fire pits this season, especially as they gather outside due to COVID.

There's a new warning after an Action News viewer contacted the Troubleshooters about his dangerously close call.

Gary Frisch said he had a solid connection from his brand new fire pit to a new propane tank, but something went wrong when flames shot 12 feet up in the air and about eight to ten feet from his house.

"Flames started shooting out from places where they shouldn't be," Frisch said.

Frisch says the fire caused second-degree burns to his face, arms, and hands.

"I turned on the garden hose," he said. "Got the flame out at one point. I reached under with an oven mitt on my hand to turn off the propane valve. While I was doing that, it flared up in my face and threw me backwards a little bit."

The company that sold Frisch the fire pit gave him a full refund. He also got money back from the maker, which investigated the incident after seeing his report to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The manufacturer said the cause was the propane tank catching fire due to a leak.

Fire safety officials told the Troubleshooters the incident brings up some important lessons about safety when it comes to any fire pit, whether propane or wood-burning.

"You want to make sure it's an appropriate distance from many other combustible materials. We recommend a minimum of 10 feet," said Acting Pennsylvania Fire Commissioner Thomas Cook.

That's at least 10 feet away from buildings, trees, and even plants.

He says never use a fire pit beneath a building overhang or in a partially or fully enclosed space.

"Never leave a fire pit unattended. Never leave your tiki torches unattended; anything that produces an open flame," Cook said.

And make sure your fire pit is on an appropriate surface. The grass is not ideal.

"Some local codes actually prohibit the use of flame producing devices on a wood deck," Cook said.

It's best to put a fire pit on top of a fire-resistant surface like metal, pavers, or bricks.

"And just be aware and on guard whenever you're dealing with propane," he said.

You need to make sure you have a tight connection with no leaks. You can do that by using a simple solution of soap or detergent mixed in water.

If you have a wood-burning fire pit, make sure a garden hose is nearby. If you have a propane pit, it's best to have a fire extinguisher.

Also, do not use a lighter or gasoline to start a wood-burning fire pit. Do burn dry, seasoned wood that was cut at least six months earlier. And keep logs no longer than three-quarters of the pit's diameter.

Lastly, make sure pets and children are as far away as possible.

For more safety tips, click HERE.

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