ESPN’s Hannah Storm gas grill accident

ESPN’s Hannah Storm was seriously injured a few weeks ago when the flame on her gas grill went out and exploded into a “wall of fire” when she tried to relight the grill. She suffered second-degree burns to her chest and hands and first-degree burns to her face and neck. She lost her eyebrows, eyelashes and half of her hair. If she saw the Rose Parade and saw her as a hostess, she noticed that her left hand was bandaged, but otherwise she looked excellent. Thanks to skilled makeup artists and hair extensions, she was able to put on the show like nothing happened.

Hannah was interviewed by ABC news and held back tears as she vividly described her ordeal. Graphic images of her in the hospital were shown while she was in the hospital; you could see the burn marks on her chest and neck where the flames trailed onto her face. She really she was lucky to have people at home who could come to her rescue, otherwise they know what could have happened.

What happened?

The article mentions that Hannah “noticed the flame on the grill had gone out. She turned off the gas and when she turned it back on “there was an explosion and a wall of fire came at me.” I underlined “she turned off the gas” because it’s a Important tidbit. Turning off the gas was the right thing to do. The article is a bit vague though. I don’t quite understand why I would turn off the gas and try to turn the grill back on with the gas off, but maybe that piece of information has been lost in translation or maybe missing a moment I think I heard Hannah say in her interview with ABC News that she waited a few minutes before turning the gas back on and turning the grill back on If she had waited a few minutes before coming back When lighting the grill, you followed the correct grill safety procedures outlined by the gas grill manufacturer in their manual.

Why did this happen if you followed the correct procedures?

While I can’t say for sure why this happened, there are a few reasons this could happen and how you can take care of them yourself.

Propane is heavier than air.

Today’s gas grills primarily use natural gas or LP (propane) gas. Natural gas is cheaper than propane depending on where you live, burns cleaner than LP, and is lighter than air so it dissipates quickly. LP gas is heavier than air and will seek out the lowest space available such as at the bottom of the firebox where the burners are. LP gas will take longer to dissipate into the air. The article says he was using a propane gas grill.

I assume that since mid-December in Connecticut the temperature has been mild to cold and that the air is denser when it is cold outside. From what I gather from the article and from listening to her interview, I’m assuming there was a short period of time after she turned off the gas to let the gas dissipate before turning the grill back on. In hot climates, where the air is thinner, propane can take 2-5 minutes to dissipate; your manufacturer’s manual will instruct you to wait 5 minutes before relighting the grill after you notice the flame has gone out. But with the cooler temperature, the cooler air would trap the propane gas at the bottom of the firebox and not allow the gas to dissipate as quickly. As much as she waited, it wasn’t enough.

propane smell test

LP (propane) gas is non-toxic and in its natural form is colorless and odourless. Manufacturers deliberately add a chemical compound to give it that unpleasant smell. The smell helps alert you that there might be a leak. When the gas is ignited, the chemical compound burns and is almost unnoticeable, but during a leak it is clearly noticeable to the nose. If Hannah had noticed the smell of rotten eggs before turning the gas back on and lighting the lighter, she might have let the grill sit a bit longer.

Why gas grill safety?

Gas grills are the most common outdoor cooking appliance today. Gas grills are increasingly replacing charcoal grills due to their ease of use and generally easier cleaning and maintenance. As with any appliance, an outdoor grill should be treated like an indoor appliance. Gas grill safety must be exercised to prevent serious injury; after all, it is a combustible gas and you have to consider the fact that it can burn if you are not careful.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Fact Sheet on Grill-Involved Home Fires, between 2006 and 2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 8,600 gas-grill-related home fires, hibachi and barbecues per year. These 8,600 fires caused an annual average of 10 civilian deaths, reported 140 injuries, and $75 million in direct property damage.

Safety tips for gas grills

  • Read the manufacturer’s suggested “Grill Safety” guidelines in the manual that came with your grill.
  • The grill must be positioned well away from any combustible structures or materials.
  • Keep children and pets away from the grill when it is in use.
  • Keep an eye on the grill to make sure the flame hasn’t gone out. If it’s a windy day, you may need to check it often.
  • Keep the grill clean! Remove grease drippings around burners and flavoring bars to prevent flare-ups.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby in the kitchen
  • If the flame goes out, turn off the gas at the propane tank first, then turn off the burners. Shutting off the gas in the tank that is at the burners will allow what little gas is in the lines to escape.
  • Leave lid open to allow gas to escape. If you keep the lid closed, the gas will not be able to escape.
  • Wait at least 5 minutes before turning on the gas. If you still smell gas or rotten eggs, wait another 5 minutes before turning the gas back on and relighting the burners.
  • If the smell of gas does not go away, keep everything turned off and call a propane service technician or the fire department; do not attempt to relight grill.
  • Replace your propane tank often! Propane tanks will degrade over time. Have your tank checked when you fill it up or better yet, swap it out for a new one.


Grilling has become a family tradition and an American pastime. I think we all tend to be satisfied with our gas grills because we use them so often and “nothing bad has ever happened”, but gas grill safety should be considered every time we turn it on. As I said at the beginning, you are using a combustible gas and you should always be aware that you can burn yourself, so be careful and take precautions.

Stay safe ~ Happy BBQ!

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