WARRENSVILLE-A Glenn Miller Road man and his wife walked away – without so much as a scratch – from what could have been a highly explosive situation at their home Saturday evening.
Marvin Oldham, the homeowner, and his wife survived an out-of-control propane leak Oldham said he inadvertently caused Saturday evening while doing yard work. He called the incident nothing short of miraculous.
“I just have to give God the credit,” Oldham said. “By all rights me, my wife and the house very easily could have been blown to smithereens. I believe God looks after us and that was truly an act of God that kept us alive.”
Shortly after 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Oldham said he was tending to some chores around the yard with the help of his small Kubota RTV utility tractor. At one point, he said he was backing the machine down a small hill in the direction of his 500-gallon outdoor propane tank.
That’s when the trouble started.
Oldham said he tried to apply the brakes on his Kubota, but inadvertently gave it gas, which slammed the vehicle into the propane tank – hard enough to knock it off its concrete pad and kick start a massive fuel leak.
Oldham said he instantly knew he was in trouble. He jumped off the tractor and sprinted away in the opposite direction before he realized his garden tractor was still on.
“So I ran back – there’s this big cloud of fuel everywhere – and switched it off and got out of there,” Oldham said. “I didn’t think about it at the time. I just ran over and did it. But looking back the stuff had already started to run into my garage and all it would have taken is a little spark or something to set the whole thing off.”
Oldham and his wife called emergency responders and retreated from the leak.
Earnest Eldreth, assistant chief of Warrensville Volunteer Fire and Rescue, said his team – along with backup from Lansing and Creston volunteers – arrived at the problem within minutes and set to work defusing the situation.
After the collision with the Kubota, Eldreth said the tank’s valve had been damaged, leaving firefighters with no way to stop the leaking propane. The firefighters checked on neighbors and moved some to areas of safety.
“We’ve been on active propane leaks before,” Eldreth said. “But usually they’re as easy as walking over and shutting off the valve. This is the first one I’ve ever been on where, OK, we’re here for the duration until the tank is drained.”
Eldreth said firefighters sprayed a fog of water on the tank and the leak – it helps keep the entire area cool, keeps ignition opportunities to a minimum and ultimately helps dissipate the fuel – for roughly three hours until the danger had passed.
Still, Eldreth said Oldham was fortunate his mad dash back to shut off the tractor had played out to his advantage.
“With that much propane in the air all it really takes is a handshake,” Eldreth said. “That little static charge can set something like that off.”
Two days after the incident, Oldham said a new tank had been installed and the only real ill effects from the accident is the smell of liquid propane that still lingers in his car that was housed in the garage at the time of the leak.
Oldham, however, said the incident confirms what he already knows.
“I believe I walk with Jesus,” Oldham said. “And it’s a day to day walk for me. You had this hot tractor, leaking fuel and I’m still here. That is only God.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.