The City of Key West, Florida

The Southernmost City in the Continental United States

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Propane Tank Flood Hazards

A floating propane tank burning during flood conditions. Video courtesy of St. Tammany Fire District 9, Bush, LA., - Occurred March 11. 2016.  

The tank began wobbling as the flood waters rose, causing the fuel line to break and the gas to start leaking.  The leaking propane was ignited by a downed yet still-energized electrical line.  It burned for an hour, before breaking free and floating away. 

Imagine your house has just flooded, and adding insult to injury, this flaming tank comes alongside your home. 

That this tank is afire, somewhat limits the hazard. If the leaking gas wasn't burning, it'd be accumulating in pockets and building spaces, creating an even more dangerous explosion hazard.

To prevent this - and worse - from happening, the Florida Building Code requires fuel tanks in flood zones to be securely tied down, with counter-buoyancy measures (usually a concrete slab) heavy enough to prevent tanks from floating and breaking free during flood conditions. 

Unsecured Propane Tanks a Community Hazard

Enforcement Aims to Reduce Flood Insurance Costs

What’s worse than having your home or business flooded … watching large hissing propane tanks floating down your street or slamming-up against your home.

Eighty percent of our city rests within a flood zone, where some 90% of propane tanks sit unsecured ready to break-free and float away.

Even without a flood, the visible plethora of unsecured tanks could quash the City’s efforts to reduce flood insurance rates.

“A year from now, we hope to have an evaluation team here to qualify our community for flood insurance discounts,” Scott Fraser, the City’s Floodplain Administrator said. “One of the things this team does is drive around town looking for visible signs of compliance. They’re not likely to give us any discount for advanced prevention measures if we fail with the very basics.”

“Property securing propane tanks in a flood zone is about as basic as it gets,” Fraser said, “Yet drive down most any street, and you can see one tank after another, just sitting there.  If we can see it, so too will the evaluation team.”

Propane and other fuel tanks are normally heavy bulky things to move around, but under flood conditions they become very buoyant. In flood zones, they’re required to be anchored down, sturdy enough so they can’t float when flood waters rise. This usually involves pouring a concrete slab heavy enough to counteract the buoyancy of a given sized tank, then strapping the tanks to the slab.

“We’re not talking about those small tanks for a grill,” Fraser said, “it’s those 100-200 gal. and larger sized tanks.”

It’s the property owner’s responsibility to provide the slab and tie-down cables, and the propane company’s job to ensure tanks they place in flood zones are properly secured.

Floating Propane Tanks

(photo courtesy of ERICA MILLER, The Saratogain ©)

Property owners and propane companies can expect stepped-up enforcement during the year to come, beginning with the most flood-prone areas.


“Discounts to flood insurance would be a welcomed relief,” Fraser said. “Not having someone else’s propane tank bobbing up and down in your yard, and being able to cook while the power is out are other welcomed benefits when storms threaten.”

BEFORE

 

Propane tanks resting on separate concrete pads without any tie-downs.
Twin Unsecured Propane Tanks

AFTER

 

An appropriately sized and weighted concrete slab has been installed.

 

Landscaping covers most of the slab, but it’s about 10” thick.
Twin Propane Tanks w/Tie-Downs

Notice the stainless steel cable running through the top of the tanks, to adjustable stainless turn-buckles, then into stainless eyelets on either side of the tank.

 

The eyelets were placed in the concrete when the slab was poured.
Twin Propane Tanks w/Tie-Downs Single tank view
This tank won't float away, no matter how deep the flooding.  Twin Propane Tanks w/Tie-Downs closeup tie-down view

Contact Us

Scott Fraser,
FEMA Coordinator/Floodplain Administrator
Building Department
1300 White St
Key West, FL 33040
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