Birmingham house explosion: how common are gas leak blasts?

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A partner of Fire Investigations UK says there a number of possible causes of gas explosions which people should also be aware of following the fatal Kingstanding house explosion

It’s been concluded that the likely cause of the fatal Kingstanding house explosion on Sunday (26 June), was a gas leak from internal piping.

The devastating blast killed 79-year-old grandmother Doreen Rees-Gibb, while her partner and the owner of the house David Murphy was taken to hospital, where he remains in a stable, but critical condition.

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In a statement, the fire service said that the blast was most likely caused by an ‘accidental ignition of a large escape of gas from a joint in the pipework.’

Scene of the gas explosion in Dulwich Road, KingstandingScene of the gas explosion in Dulwich Road, Kingstanding
Scene of the gas explosion in Dulwich Road, Kingstanding | SWNS

According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (via The Guardian) there were 12 other fatalities and 179 injuries caused by gas explosions and fires in Great Britain in the past five years.

On average, there have been 31 gas explosions a year.

Explosions and fires caused by gas leaks rose from 28 in 2017 to 41 in 2020 and 178 people were injured in the last five years from flammable gas blasts - according to HSE figures.

A ‘number of possible causes’ of gas explosions

Chris Clarke, a partner at Fire Investigations UK, said gas leaks aren’t necessarily uncommon, although there can be a range of other causes.

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He said: “It’s quite well known that some internal gas pipes or gas pipes leading up to properties galvanises steel pipes, so it’s not unusual (gas leaks) but there also a myriad of other things which cause gas explosions.

“For exmaple, people working on installations when they’re not qualified to do so - and of course we’ve seen another incident in Bedfordshire, and there’s speculation there that’s another gas explosion. But, there are an infinite number of ignitable gases in people’s houses, and I think a lot of people are not aware that nearly every aerosol can, for example, whether it’s hairspray, polish, or deodorant, is also propelled by liquid petroleum gas.

“There’s enough gas in one of those aerosol cans when it’s mixed with the right percentage of air to cause quite a devastating explosion.

mergency services at the scene in Dulwich Road, Kingstandingmergency services at the scene in Dulwich Road, Kingstanding
mergency services at the scene in Dulwich Road, Kingstanding | PA

“So we’re very quick to assume that explosions we see in the media must be caused by a gas explosion, and it’s either the fault of the gas board or boiler, but there are a mirriad of other ignitable vapours which will react in the same way. The other thing we come across is petrol vapour explosions.

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“Petrol is giving off vapours all the time and anything above 40 degrees is giving vapours off, and those vapors are not dissimilar from propane or butane. So when mixed correctly with air, they create an explosive atmosphere, and significant explosive atmospheres.”

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