Stove Safety

Never leave a stove running unattended. Monitor it for safe operation at all times, and avoid excess thermal fedback. Some fuels can spill or vaporise, creating explosion hazards. Petrol/Shellite is the worst offender here, with metho second. If either o

Stove safety

A stove burns a flammable material. Mistreat it and you can have a problem (as with my story about pancakes in the tent). Apart from that there are a few other precautions to be taken with stoves. We list some of them here:

  • Never leave a stove running unattended. Monitor it for safe operation at all times, and avoid excess thermal fedback.
  • Some fuels can spill or vaporise, creating explosion hazards. Petrol/Shellite is the worst offender here, with metho second. If either of those spill, move away and make no flames! Wait a little while until the fuel has evaporated.
  • Lighting a liquid fuel stove often involves a small flare-up. (The instructions for one stove refer to the priming stage as a fireball!) Taking a pot off an alcohol stove can also cause a flare up, especially if it is a pressurised one. Do this inside your tent and you may have no tent. Do it carelessly in a hut and you may have no hut. Be careful! On the other hand, lighting a gas stove inside the tent should be fairly safe - provided you have first checked that your lighter or matches are going to work. It is best if you light them before you turn the stove on, but this is very easy in practice.
  • Run a stove on full bore for a long time and some things are going to get hot. If there is no shield between the flame and the fuel tank, both the tank and the fuel inside it can get very hot. This could be dangerous, especially for petrol and gas stoves. I know of one case where the petrol tank exploded, burning a tent and two people seriously.
  • Cooking right inside the tent on the groundsheet is going to result in disaster, sooner or later. The stove will get knocked over, and any of the following may happen in increasing order of (de)merit: your stew will be in your sleeping bag; the hot stove will melt the groundsheet; the tent will catch alight.
  • Cooking on an unstable bit of ground will have results similar to the above. Snow grass is notorious for this, and hard (or any) snow is just as dangerous if it starts to melt. Use a stove base such as a small square of plywood, and spend some time getting the base really stable before lighting the stove. Actually, plywood is much better for this than sheet metal: it is a good insulator and not as slippery.
  • Do not leave your billy grips hanging on the side of the pot. They will get very hot there from the hot gas coming up the side of the pot, resulting in either a dropped dinner, burnt fingers or an upset stove - or all three.
  • Kero especially needs good priming, and you should use metho for this, not kero or petrol. Just a few drops from a little Nalgene dropper bottle is usually sufficient. You can buy such bottles at most bushwalking shops these days - or use a dropper bottle which had medicine in it maybe. Try your local doctor or pharmacy.
  • Put a whole lot of snow in a pot on a stove to melt it down for water and you will find condensation forming on the underside of the pot at the start. This condensation comes from the combustion products from the flame: the hydrogen burns to form water. When the water drips onto the stove it can put the flame out, but the fuel will continue to flow. This can be rather dangerous, and it can also cause the problem outlined in the next point. Start with a little water instead, if possible, and feed the snow in slowly.
  • If you boil something over and pour water all over the generator tube in a petrol or kero stove, you will create havoc. The thermal shock of relatively cold water on a red-hot generator tube will dislodge lots of scale (rust, char or gunge) from inside the tube, which will blow straight up to the jet and block it utterly. Cleaning this mess out can be a major disassembly operation - not one to undertake in failing light in the snow. (Sigh, biscuits for dinner that night ...) This gets serious at altitude where you may be relying on the stove for survival.
  • Some stoves have a thin flexible hose from the tank to the stove. This hose is usually under pressure, be it a liquid or gas stove. Experience has shown that mistreatment of the hose can lead to it breaking down at a fitting and leaking. The thought of a jet of pressurised fuel suddenly appearing while the stove is running is frightening. Reality is as bad - I had the pressure relief valve on an old Optimus let go once, inside a tent. Flame thrower! Treat any hose with exaggerated care, and do not bend them sharply. If there is any sign of damage, replace it! What's your life worth?
  • Be very careful with straight isobutane cartridges on non-MSR stoves, especially those with small burners. You can run into flame lift-off or flame-out conditions, as discussed above. Fortunately, these don't seem to be that common any more.