Case of exploding fridge solved

Repair work is carried out after windows of a Tauranga house were damaged by an exploding fridge. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times
Repair work is carried out after windows of a Tauranga house were damaged by an exploding fridge. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

The mysterious case of the exploding fridge has been solved.

Firefighters and police were called to an explosion at a house in Scott St, Gate Pa in the early hours of October 3.

The force of the explosion smashed all 10 windows in the two-bedroom flat, ripped the frame off the sliding door in the lounge and tore off window joinery frames. It also caused the ceiling to flex and crack in the kitchen and dining room.

The two occupants of the house were asleep at the time and were unharmed. Tauranga fire safety officer Ken McKeagg said the occupants initially told him the fridge only contained a bag of vegetables. He said lengthy questioning by police led the men to admit they had been mixing butane with alcohol, removing the evidence before emergency services arrived.

"We were happy to learn it was flammable gas and there was not something wrong with the veggies, which would be quite disconcerting.''

Mr McKeagg said it was unclear if a leaking butane canister had been left in the fridge or if it had vapourised off the alcohol during the night.

The butane vapour would have eventually reached its explosive limit and been ignited when the thermostat kicked in and started the motor, he said.

Most fridges had a protective layer between the motor and the storage space but this could get worn down in older appliances, Mr McKeagg said.

Under normal circumstances that would not be a problem as most people do not keep volatile substances in their kitchen fridge, he said.

Mr McKeagg had never heard of people mixing butane and alcohol and had only seen one similar explosion during his 30 years in the fire service.

"In the first one the lid of a sample bottle in a laboratory had been left slightly ajar. Volatile vapour escaped and when the fridge engine clicked on it blew the hell out of the fridge and the lab.''

- APNZ

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