It Could Never Happen to Me - And I Was Very Lucky...


Guest Author:  Jack, Arizona
Awhile back I recall reading of a house fire in Texas that destroyed several classic cars in the garage, and most of the house. One recommendation from the homeowner was to install smoke alarms in the garage and if possible, a sprinkler system. At the time I thought these were very worthwhile suggestions and had every intention of at least putting in several smoke & gas alarms. This past Thursday I almost came to regret not taking the time to actually install the devices, which have sat on my workbench for more then a year. Here's why -

Thursday morning I received a call from my wife that as she was leaving for work she noticed a very strong smell of solvent in the garage and she asked me to go to the house and find out was was the cause.

Not long afterward I pulled in the driveway and as I opened the garage door the vapors/smell were indeed very strong. I check out the rack I keep paint, solvents and oils on for a can that may have leaked or tipped over - and found nothing. Just in case, I took most of the flammable items out of the garage and when I did the smell seemed to decrease. I did a look around to see if anything else was amiss, and found nothing. I have a classic car parked in the extra garage bay and nothing seemed wrong there. As I had to get back to work, I decided the culprit was in the stuff I removed from the garage, and left.

Later that day, I receive another semi-frantic call informing me that a liquid was flowing out underneath the extra garage bay door, and it smelled of gasoline. Call 911 was my first reaction - which was done. Having a gas water heater and two air conditioner condenser units in the same area created an ideal environment for a gas vapor explosion.  In the meantime, neighbors helped push the car out of the garage and into the driveway, where the real problem was found.

For some yet unexplained reason, the gas tank sprung a leak on the bottom side of the tank, and a nearly full tank of gas had emptied itself on the garage floor.
I had a piece of masonite as a drip board and found it has absorbed much of the gas. The local fire department declared the area safe when they had the excess gas soaked up, the car and leaking gas were being contained in a large catch basin, and the vapors were fading in the garage. As the excitement faded, neighbors heading home, and the remaining gas finally draining out of the tank, I decided to leave well enough alone and planned to fix things in the morning.  

Had I opened the extra garage bay door, I would have seen the gas pooling on the floor - that was a big mistake. Obviously the vapors were coming from someplace and when I didn't see an empty solvent car or a shelf with some solvent on it, I should have looked further. Leaving the car in the driveway overnight was to become my second mistake of the day.

For no sooner had I fallen asleep was I awakened with a roaring sound I couldn't immediately identify. The it hit me - RAIN! Sure, I had the top on on the convertible, but the rear window was unzipped and was a gaping hole just inviting the rain to soak the interior.

I quickly learned that in the dark and a driving thunderstorm is not the time or place to try and zip up a rear window in a convertible. My backup plan was to use a 55 gallon trash bag with just about every piece of scrap wood or garden tool available to hold it in place against the wind. I am very thankful the bag held and the majority of the storms that night were held at bay.

The following morning I went out to inspect the mess and found the vinyl window well liner that had been installed when I had the top replaced acted as a swimming pool liner and held several inches of rain water. But no water appeared to seep beneath back seat (other than the initial rain drops), and the carpet was dry - both I took as positive signs.

So, this weekend I have five tasks that top the "must do" list.
#5 - zip up the rear window insert
#4 - find out where I can dispose of dirty, water-tainted gasoline safely and legally
#3 - get baking soda and detergent to clean the garage floor and try to absorb the remaining gas vapors
#2 - patch the leak until I can have it properly repaired or replaced

#1 - install the smoke and gas alarms

Thank you for the suggestion about the smoke & gas alarms in the garage - hopefully someone else will take my good luck as the motivation to install their own alarms.

Best regards.,