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Safety warning over gas cylinders

PUBLISHED: 05:14 17 June 2003 | UPDATED: 14:00 03 March 2010

FIRE fighters are asking anyone who may be storing empty acetylene gas cylinders in their garages or sheds to return them to their supplier.

The warning comes in the wake of three incidents in recent weeks where the emergency services were called out to tackle separate fires that started in property containing similar cylinders.

FIRE fighters are asking anyone who may be storing empty acetylene gas cylinders in their garages or sheds to return them to their supplier.

The warning comes in the wake of three incidents in recent weeks where the emergency services were called out to tackle separate fires that started in property containing similar cylinders.

The cylinders are commonly used when cutting metal, often for vehicle repairs. They become highly dangerous if exposed to extreme heat and can explode. When they explode, cylinders are unpredictable and can easily knock through a solid brick wall.

Under current guidelines, the cylinders must be left to cool for a period of up to twenty-four hours before it is safe to remove them.

If the fire occurs in a residential area, as was the case in Nacton Road in Ipswich recently, local residents are forced to leave their homes while the police place a cordon around the area. 

In the Nacton Road incident, firefighters tackling a fire in a small workshop found a number of gas cylinders including acetylene. People were evacuated from around 300 homes within a 200 metre area and were not allowed to return for several hours until the cylinders were declared safe. There have since been two other fires in the county involving acetylene cylinders.

Although it is not possible to know how many cylinders are currently stored in Suffolk, it is thought that many empty containers could be lying in garages and outbuildings and are only discovered when incidents such as the recent fires occur.

Such cylinders are technically the property of the company who supplies them to the customer and, when empty, should be returned directly to them for refilling and resale.  Even though the cylinders appear empty, gas is still held in them and they remain a danger when subjected to fire or shock.

Martyn Thorpe, community fire safety officer, said: "These cylinders are used for a variety of functions, but once the gas is spent many people can forget they are there and leave them to gather dust in the corner of the garage or shed.

"It is only when there is a fire or similar incident that the real danger becomes apparent. Many small businesses who use acetylene cylinders are not fully aware of the dangers or the correct method of storage."

Peter Monk, member of Suffolk County Council's executive committee, said: "The safest option is to return these cylinders to the supplier and make sure they are correctly dealt with.  I would urge everyone to check their garages and outbuildings to make sure any empty cylinders are returned to the supplier and out of harms way.  If in doubt contact your supplier for further advice."

The county council is unable to accept acetylene cylinders at any of its household waste sites, they must be returned directly to the shop or supplier. Anyone needing advice on safe storage should contact Suffolk Fire Service on 01473 588888.

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