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Grandfather Dies in Camper Explosion, But Why? Who is to blame?

Updated: Sep 15



Jose, 70, lived in an older camper next to his son’s house. After coffee, he offered to cook breakfast for his grandson. Within 10 minutes the camper exploded and burst into flames, killing Jose. The Fire Department extinguished the flames but lacked the expertise to test the gas system to determine the cause. The trailer was uninsured, so there was no insurance investigation. The gas company, who delivered 50 gallons to the tank 6 days before, didn’t want to know. The family was left with a burned shell and unanswered questions. (Was it murder? Did the gas company do something wrong? Etc.).


The family called me. After viewing some photos, I was 90% certain that I could determine the cause. I also told them that I was 90 % sure that there was nobody to blame. An explosion in an old camper is usually an accident, due to wear and tear. They wanted to know for sure, so they hired me.


After interviews, an examination of the burnt camper, and getting answers to further questions, I had it figured out. I just had to turn on the gas to prove it.

Jose had wanted to replace his gas water heater with an electric one. With the gas off, he disconnected the gas line from the water heater. He crawled under the camper to disconnect this gas line from the gas manifold and cap it. He mistakenly disconnected and capped the gas line to the stove.


That morning, Jose turned the gas tank back on, and then went inside to cook. Immediately, propane gas flowed out the open pipe to the water heater. This was inside the cabinet, below the stove. The huge gas flow filled the cabinets within 5 minutes. Jose may have smelled gas as he was attempting to light the stove, and wondered why it wasn’t lighting. Then the gas below the cabinet exploded.


My examination and testing answered the family’s questions:

- It was an accident, not murder.

- The accident occurred within 10 minutes of the gas tank being turned on.

- The tank was not overfilled. The gas contained odorant. The gas company did nothing wrong.


Jose got mixed up. He disconnected and capped the wrong gas pipe. This caused fugitive gas to leak out as soon as the tank was turned on.

With these answers, the family can now sleep at night again. It’s fulfilling to use my expertise to help people. It’s why I do what I do.


The Moral of the story: “Most fires and explosions are caused by 1 thing: “Carelessness.”


PS: The gas company's NYC attorney told me not to test the gas system or he’d scream “Spoliation”. That I should put them on ‘notice’, and have a big group exam in 3 to 4 weeks. I had already found the cause, so I ignored his suggestion and had it proven in 10 minutes, at a small fraction of the price of a group of attorneys, experts and future lab exams.

Of course, most investigations cannot occur in this way, due to legal and insurance reasons.

In this case, my experience, questions and investigation revealed the explosion's cause, quickly and inexpensively.

Who saves that money? Whoever buys insurance and gas... All of us.


I have been investigating fires and explosions for over 36 years. I have appeared and testified over 90 times in State and Federal Courts for Fires, Explosions, Oil and Gas, Carbon Monoxide, Chemical problem analysis, Fire codes, and Slip and Fall cases. My efficient, cost-effective and expert legal testimony is a proven winner in court. If you have questions that you need answered, please give me a call at 720-244-0897 and visit my website at harrisff.com/



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Randolph J. Harris | Forensic Engineering | Fire Investigation