Fun with propane

We have a new firepit at our house fed by a propane tank. It is a very simple design — tank, firepit, burner. Light it and go. It has been many years since we have dealt with propane, and I have forgotten most of hard-won knowledge. I am reminded of my all-time favorite camping joke:

A novice skydiver was taking his first jump. The instructor was reminding him in the plane “When it is time to deploy your chute, pull the ring on the left. If for any reason that doesn’t work, don’t worry, count to ten and pull the ring on the right. And if for some unlikely reason that doesn’t work, reach behind you and pull this tab, the chute is guaranteed to come out.”.

So the novice leapt out of the plane, counted to ten, and pulled the ring on the left. Nothing. No need to panic, the skydiver thought, I know what to do, I’ll pull the right ring in ten.

He counted to ten, and then pulled the right ring. Again nothing. Again he thought, no need to panic, I’ll pull the rear tab. And he did, and again nothing.

So there he was, plummeting to the earth, wondering what to do. And he noticed, down and to his left, a man skyrocketing upward from the earth. Well, the skydiver thought, he must know what he is doing. And so he yelled over to the man, “Hey, do you know anything about parachutes?”

And the man yelled back “No, do you know anything about propane stoves?”

In case you haven’t used propane, unlike a lot of gases, it is heavier than air, and it likes to invisibly pool in every nook and cranny, and then ignite all at once. Which is exciting in a “you didn’t really want those eyebrows” kind of way.

A modest bit of research on the web reveals that our simple firepit probably needs a bit more complexity in its “burner design”:http://www.moderustic.com/Propane-Burners.html if we would like to have less exciting evening fires. In my defense, I didn’t design this firepit, but I probably should have asked a few more questions about it as it was being built.

Check “Survive car fire” off the bucket list

So cruising up I-5 from LA yesterday, in southern Oregon just beyond Grants Pass, and we notice this incredibly acrid smell. 10 seconds later, white smoke is coming out vents. We pull over, pop the hood, and see flames in the rear of the engine compartment. We look underneath and see flames underneath the car. A quick call to 911, who want to know exactly what mile marker we are at, who knows? By the time the 911 call has ended, flames have broken through to the passenger footwell.

We grabbed a few very critical things and stepped back, not knowing really what to do. HUGE kudos to the trucker who stopped with a fire extinguisher and put the flames out, and huge thanks to the second trucker who stopped, and huge thanks to all the truckers who passed word about the event via radio. In another two minutes the entire interior would have likely been in flames and the car would have been a total loss, the trucking community saved us. As it was the damage appears very minor, the exhaust pipe dropped off and hot exhaust gas straight out of the catalytic converter likely started the fire, missing almost all vital parts.

The fire crew showed up in another 10 minutes out of Grants Pass and cooled down everything, making sure nothing could flare back up. And Audi Roadside Assist got a tow out to us in half an hour, so that was good. Grants Pass Towing took us all the way to Beaverton to the nearest Audi dealer. And we negotiated an extra fee to just keep going to Seattle, so we ended up getting home albeit a few hours late, but huge thanks to Grants Pass Towing.

I won’t name the aftermarket exhaust installer who installed our exhaust, but it seems highly likely that this was the source of the problem, raspberries to you guys.

Finally, all the crap we carry in our car and no fire extinguisher? Lesson learned. If you don’t carry a jack and spare and you get a flat, your car doesn’t explode or burn to the ground or kill you, you are just inconvenienced. Probably would be wise to carry accessories that actually save lives and/or prevent catastrophic loss, instead of accessories that just enhance convenience.

Next on the bucket list — something involving poisonous snakes. Or maybe killer bees.