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Propane poses risk, fire expert warns

It's a safe bet thousands of Utahns, at this moment, are using propane in one way or another.

Fire and chemical experts say the widely used cooking and heating fuel is remarkably safe but, like any gas, can be explosive and deadly."No gas is safe if it gets loose," said Lynn Borg, a fire/arson investigator for the Utah Fire Marshal's Office.

Borg spent much of the weekend searching for answers in a propane blast that leveled a Coalville mobile home.

Tamara J. Ercanbrack, 34, her 7-year-old daughter, Tina, and 18-month-old son, Jeremy, died in the Saturday afternoon explosion.

Investigators believe a propane leak filled a 3-foot crawl space at the base of the Ercanbracks' double-wide trailer. An undetermined ignition source sparked the blast, which hurled wreckage 100 yards from the home site.

"We don't know what ignited the gas, maybe a pilot light," Borg said. "It doesn't take much once (propane) reaches its explosive limit."

Bill Ercanbrack became concerned Saturday when his family failed to meet him at a friend's home in Coalville for a shopping trip to Park City. He drove home 13 miles to investigate.

He discovered the bodies of his wife and daughter in the smoldering remains of the home. Jeremy's body wasn't found until Sunday morning under rubble by a search dog.

Borg said the 500-gallon propane tank that fueled the Ercan-brack home was replenished in August and was about 60 percent full at the time of the explosion.

"The family was not using a lot of propane, probably only on the cooking stove," Borg said.

Although propane odors can be easily detected, Borg said, it's possible the Ercanbracks never noticed a problem because the leak was under the home.

Because of the damage, it may be impossible to determine the source or cause of the leak. Borg said the propane servicing the Ercanbrack home had been professionally installed and maintained.

Propane hookup isn't a do-it-yourself home project, Borg warned. Professional propane companies have the equipment and know-how to properly test and install residential connections.

If you do smell or hear leaking gas, evacuate the house immediately and then call the fire department, Borg said.

Meanwhile, homeowner Bill Ercanbrack must deal with the loss of his family.

"I don't think the magnitude of the whole situation has set in for Mr. Ercanbrack. He's still numb," Summit County sheriff's detective Robert Berry said.