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Hidden fire danger may be in your house

By EMILY BAUCUMNews 4 San AntonioFacebook{}| Twitter

SAN ANTONIO - Home inspectors have a warning about a type of piping that's installed in seven million homes - maybe even yours.

The manufacturers say it's a safe way to pipe gas throughout the house. Inspectors, though, say those pipes put your safety in jeopardy.

You can't tell from the outside why home inspector Mark Eberwine{}calls a Comal County home a ticking time bomb. He says you need to go to the attic and see for yourself.

"It has a lot of issues," Eberwine says. "It has this gas line that's known as CSST - corrugated stainless steel tubing - that is snaking through the house. The homeowner is fortunate in that he's being apprised of this early on and before some sort of disaster happens."

Because disaster has struck before, in August 2012 at a home in Lubbock. All it took was a lightning strike that ignited a fire in the attic.

"Generally it doesn't spread this fast," Lubbock's assistant fire marshal Lt. Elliot Eldredge told reporters shortly after the fire. "What we're seeing now is sometimes there are issues with the corrugated stainless steel tubing."

The homeowner's friend Brennen Teel was killed.

"A fireball essentially came out of the attic and incinerated him," consulting engineer Mark Goodson says.

Teel's family started the Brennen Teel foundation for gas line safety. Goodson works with the foundation. He gave us a closer look at CSST.

"This is just a small piece," Goodson says. "It's flexible, easy to install. Has the metal thickness of about four sheets of paper."

He says the piping was developed for earthquake-prone areas like Japan, but problems developed as it became popular in lightning-prone areas like South Texas.

"Here is a piece that was taken to a lightning lab," Goodson says. "Artificial lightning was created and a hole was blown in it and a fire developed."

He says when lightning creates holes and the gas pipe is near conductors like electrical wiring or a metal roof, a fire can start.

"The hot metal and/or the sparks will light the gas off and you have a blowtorch," Goodson says.

Manufacturers say the risk can be minimized if you bond and ground the piping. But fire investigators warn those precautions had been taken in the home where Teel lost his life.

And what scares experts the most: the piping is sold at big-box hardware stores.

"It is readily available," Goodson says. "Anyone can go and purchase it and install it without having any training or certification."

Experts tell us if the piping is installed in your house, you ought to consider replacing it with black steel piping. It's going to be expensive, but they say in the long run the steel piping is a lot safer.

But if you still have the piping and suspect your home has been struck by lightning, Eberwine recommends taking quick action.

"There is one thing that you can do very quickly," Eberwine says. "Know where your gas meter is or have a wrench to turn the gas off yourself."

He says your family probably has a fire escape plan, so add the procedure to turn of the gas to your checklist. Eberwine says it's a small step you can take to potentially save a life.

If you'd like to educate yourself even more about this topic, both the{}manufacturers and the{}safety advocates have very extensive websites for consumers.

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