Ready or Not #19: Gas

Quite some time ago I had a friend of mine ask me how she should store gasoline for an emergency for her generator and vehicles and such. I’ve been putting it off because it is such a volatile subject – but it is also a very important subject. There are a lot of strong feelings about gasoline storage. I’m not going to approach this subject as an expert because I’m not, but I am going to talk about safety issues and the potential problems of long term storage.

I called and talked to Provo City’s Fire Marshall, Jim Guynn. He was very helpful, very informative and very concerned about the subject himself. He is aware that people are concerned about fuel storage, especially now that gasoline prices fluctuate up and down at best, and sky rocket at worst.

A few months ago, a couple living in Salt Lake City lost their entire house because they had stored containers of gasoline in their basement. They were so concerned about the rising fuel costs that they wanted to buy enough to have on hand to offset the rising cost. That is a really good philosophy when it comes to Cream of Mushroom soup, but then again the fumes from canned soup won’t ignite and burn the house down when it finds the open flame of your water heater or furnace. Fortunately the couple lived, but what a lesson to learn.

As Fire Marshall Guynn and I talked, his biggest concerns were: the amount that was stored on site, the container that it was being stored in, the place that the fuel was stored, and the length of time it was stored.

Per Utah State Code, it is illegal to store more than 30 gallons of fuel in properly designated containers. This does not include the fuel you have in your vehicle’s tank which is just another reason to always keep your car’s tank full, no matter the cost.

Fire Marshall Guynn has asked that whatever you do, don’t store fuel in the big blue containers that are manufactured for water. Instead, store water in them (two gallons per person, per day, for a two week period). The fuel will eventually break down the plastic and will leak or create even bigger problems. Make sure you only store gas in metal gas cans or plastic containers that are specifically made for gasoline storage. It’s a chemistry thing.

Don’t store the fuel in an attached garage or in your house. The liquid isn’t what starts on fire, it’s the fumes and it’s just too dangerous to keep it stored close to your family. Don’t store it in direct heat where it could possibly self combust. If you have it stored in a proper container, make sure that you leave a little space for air because, like any liquid, it expands and contracts.

Gas doesn’t have a very long shelf life. With all of research I did on this subject, one thing was agreed upon. If you intend to store gas for more than 30 days, you must add a fuel stabilizer to keep it useable. You can buy gasoline fuel stabilizers at just about any place that sells car maintenance products – including some grocery stores. The problem is, when you buy the fuel you don’t know how “fresh” it is or how long it has been in storage before you pump it into your containers. Old gas, or substandard or poorly manufactured gas, will turn into a shellac or varnish type substance quickly and can ruin the motor that burns it. Be careful, buy quality gas, and rotate your storage – just like your food storage.

When I was a little girl I lived in a farming community and a lot of the farmers had the large, above ground, fuel storage tanks – including us. These were gravity fed storage tanks that were very useful, BUT they are no longer legal to use in Utah. Fire Marshall Guynn says that in rural areas, if they still have the above ground containers, they don’t worry about it too much, but when these containers get old and are no longer viable, you cannot legally replace them.

In Utah you can store gasoline underground ONLY if you set up a private gas station that follows the laws of the state of Utah. There are a few families around that have done this, but they have to follow the same regulations that commercial gas stations follow. This option is cost prohibitive for most families and would never be a viable option.

If somebody were to bury a regular tank in the ground and fill it up with gas and it developed a leak it would be disastrous. Consider the small town gas station down south that developed an undetected leak and the gas leached into the soil surrounding the station. Eventually several homes next to the gas station were overwhelmed with the fumes of the leaking gas and they were forced to leave their homes. Some of the houses will never be inhabitable again. They were lucky that none of the homes blew up! This happened about a year ago and they are still having problems; the contaminated soil had to be removed, the residents say that they can still smell the fumes, and it is still a safety hazard for anyone living in the area. Keep your storage above ground.

Fire Marshall Guynn provided me the Utah State Code for gasoline and diesel fuel storage to share with you.

Utah State Code for Fuel Storage
(Italics added)
3404.3.1.1 Approved containers.
Only approved containers and portable tanks shall be used.

3404.3.4.2 Occupancy quantity limits.
The following limits for quantities of stored flammable or combustible liquids shall not be exceeded:

Group R (residential) occupancies: Quantities in Group R occupancies shall not exceed that necessary for maintenance purposes and operation of equipment, and shall not exceed quantities set forth in Table 2703.1.1(1). 30 gals.

3404.3.4.4 Liquids for maintenance and operation of equipment.
In all occupancies, quantities of flammable and combustible liquids in excess of 10 gallons (38 L) used for maintenance purposes and the operation of equipment shall be stored in liquid storage cabinets in accordance with Section 3404.3.2. Quantities not exceeding 10 gallons (38 L) are allowed to be stored outside of a cabinet when in approved containers located in private garages or other approved locations.

Please look over the state codes and get familiar with them. There are safety reasons that these laws have been established. Please obey the laws of the land and keep us all safe.

One last thought. Fire Marshall Guynn stated that if there is an excessive amount of fuel stored on a property where his men are fighting a fire and one of his firemen gets hurt or dies, that as a Fire Marshall he would prosecute the owner of the gasoline to the fullest extent of the law – including that of Negligent Homicide. Keep this in mind when storing your fuel. Safety first for family, neighbors and your friendly firefighter.

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