Camper Van Explodes, Injuring New York Couple

Bao Zhang
By Bao Zhang
October 2, 2023US News
Camper Van Explodes, Injuring New York Couple
A camper van in a stock photo. (alexfan32/Shutterstock)

Robert and Barbara Hamlin, aged 75 and 74, from upstate New York, had their camper van explode unexpectedly.

The couple woke inside the camper to the smell of gas, and Mr. Hamlin suggested that his wife had turned on the stove, which sparked the explosion at around 10:54 a.m on Sept. 25.

Mr. Hamlin was standing outside the camper when it exploded and was knocked to the ground. He was found with visible burn injuries on his face. Ms. Hamlin fractured her left ankle inside the camper, but was still conscious when emergency responders arrived on the scene.

State police in Lafayette responded to a 911 call reporting an explosion. They arrived to find emergency fire personnel attempting to clear out the back of the camper to retrieve Ms. Hamlin.

The explosion also caused significant damage to the surrounding area, including the exterior of their house where they had parked the camper and their Chevy Silverado 2500.

Mr. Hamlin said that they had left their propane tanks open overnight, which would have filled the camper with gas. The camper itself did not survive the explosion, with the back end completely blown open.

Emergency responders brought them both to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse for treatment, and they were admitted with non-life-threatening injuries.

Patty Davis from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said that the commission had recorded approximately 2,100 emergency room cases between 2020 and 2022 due to exploding propane tanks, averaging 700 a year. This is an increase from an earlier figure of 600 per year for the same type of incident.

The CPSC utilizes the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System through which emergency rooms can report any consumer product-related case so that the commission can track these issues.

The Department of Energy reported that despite the high number of total explosions, the chance of death from a propane tank explosion is only around one in 37 million.

The two main causes of these explosions are that the tank is left open, a mistake that the Hamlins admitted to, or when the tank pressure reaches a point so high that it can no longer safely vent, which causes the tank to burst open.

The Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education in 2020 reported that roughly 47 million households in the United States use propane for outdoor gas grilling alone, with a 2017 report stating around 830,000 farms in the United States use propane for a wide range of uses, including crop drying and milk sterilization.

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