- July 23, 2021
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Catastrophic Injury
On Sassafras Tea Road, near the South Georgia city of Camilla, an explosion set fire to a wood-frame home on the evening of June 21st, 2021. Emergency responders discovered the body of one resident, 60-year-old Belinda Ann Yaremko, inside the burning home.
Investigators determined that the explosion, which was powerful enough to destroy the house’s roof and blow out its windows, was caused by an accidental ignition of liquified petroleum gas, also known as propane.
There is no public information, however, on exactly how that deadly accidental ignition was able to occur, and unless Yaremko’s surviving family chooses to push for answers, it may stay that way. All too often, this is where fire investigations stop, with the word “accidental,” which people tend to think of as synonymous with “unavoidable” or “blameless.”
In reality, most accidents can and should be avoided, but they happen because someone chose not to take necessary precautions. When an accident closely resembles a string of others that came before it, meaning that a consistent problem exists and has gone unaddressed, it’s a strong indicator that the accident is not blameless.
Given how common fuel explosions and fire deaths are in Georgia, fuel companies, construction companies, and landlords should be scrutinized carefully for their roles in allowing these incidents to continue.
Explosions and Fires Are an Out-of-Control Threat to Georgia Residents
An average of 135 people are killed in fires every year in Georgia. Adjusted for population, that’s significantly more than the national average. There are plenty of ways to make homes safer from fire, but Georgia residents, particularly renters and mobile home owners, usually aren’t provided with the well-maintained and up-to-date home equipment that would lower their chances of fire death.
This year, Yaremko’s death marked Georgia’s 73rd fire-related fatality, and the 74th followed less than 48 hours later in Sylvester. The Sylvester fire was not fuel-related, but that death could still likely have been prevented with adequate safety equipment — there were no smoke detectors found in the home.
Households that rely on fuels like propane for heating and cooking face higher risks of fatal home fires, and it’s not because these fuels can’t be made safe. Usually, the danger comes from careless mistakes made by the company that designed, serviced, or installed the fuel-burning equipment, or delivered the fuel itself. These mistakes then go unexamined and are allowed to happen over and over again, because the resulting fire or explosion was “accidental.”
Propane Gas and Equipment Providers Are Responsible for Making Their Products Safe
To mitigate the risk of explosions and fires, propane providers should:
- Mix their product with an odorant like ethyl mercaptan, so that users can smell leaks.
- Make sure staff who provide home services are qualified check tanks for leaks and flaws and fill them correctly.
- Equip company-provided tanks with emergency release valves, to prevent pressure explosions.
- Provide users with thorough warnings on the potential dangers of propane use and how to avoid them.
Propane companies are supposed to be experts on their own products and how to use them safely. If a company neglects to take safety measures it should know are necessary, and someone is hurt or killed as a result, the company is liable for that outcome. Landlords and contractors can also share liability for propane fires if they’re caused by faulty architecture or installations not provided by the propane company, or made worse by a lack of other fire safety measures, like smoke detectors and extinguishers.
The Stoddard Firm believes in pursuing explosion and fire investigations beyond the point of simply identifying the ignition source and ruling out arson. We’ll dig until we find out exactly what happened, how, and whose responsibility it was to prevent it, so that our clients get the compensation they deserve.
If you are Belinda Ann Yaremko’s next of kin, or if you have lost someone else to a propane explosion in Georgia, reach out to the Stoddard Firm to learn more about your rights and options.