Family blames propane heater for Vernonia home explosion

VERNONIA, Ore. - A woman and her grandson were badly burned when their home exploded Friday, and the family said a propane heater started the fire.

The state fire marshal is working to confirm that as the cause. While firefighters are fairly sure how the fire started, they're doing a thorough inspection anyway.

According to the family, the grandmother, Rose Cutright, was using a heater connected to a five gallon propane tank to keep warm in her bedroom - an apartment above the garage.

All it took was a leak in the propane tank and a cigarette lighter to cause the explosion that burned the home, especially its back side.

Cutright is still in serious condition at the Oregon Burn Center at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. Her family says she's improving.

Her 12-year-old grandson, Seth, was sitting with her when the house exploded. He carried his grandmother down the steps and got the neighbors to call 911.

"She was hurt. She said, 'Help!' So I helped her down the stairs outside," Seth told KATU News.

Seth was also badly burned in the fire.

The heater was a small metal device attached to a five gallon propane tank like is commonly used on a barbecue grill.

"If the gas leaks out of the containers, say if there's damage to it that you don't know (about), you may or may not be able to smell it, but it can fill the room full of explosive gases," said Capt. David James with the Vancouver Fire Department.

The Cutrights said Rose used the propane heater because it was a cheap and easy way to warm up the bedroom.

The Oregon state fire marshal tracks fires that start in this way. Its office says heating equipment used the wrong way caused 1,800 fires and killed 12 people in Oregon from 2007 to 2011.

Fire officials say the common risk from heating equipment is carbon monoxide poisoning - not explosions.

The bottom line is a propane tank should never be taken inside and especially not connected to a heater.

Natural gas can also be extremely dangerous if there's a leak. Officials at Northwest Natural Gas will inspect your stove and furnace for free if you contact them.