Alcohol Fire!! - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 40 Old 12-12-2010 Thread Starter
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Smile Alcohol Fire!!

Well, as we get ready to leave for the islands next spring, we are trying to use the original Galleymaid alcohol stove oven combo that is in this 1979 Endeavor Sloop. We had originally planned to "upgrade" to propane and read extensively about the pros and cons of it. My previous sailboat had propane, and Im sorry but I personally never felt safe....

I hiked the Appalachian trail this year and saw many people using the little soda can alcohol stoves. They worked great, were cheap to use, but my fears about them was their extinguishability...in other words how do you put them out?

The stove on the boat has been serviced, and Thanksgiving dinner complete with all the trimmings came out perfectly....so my inclination is to just put the $3500 earmarked for the propane upgrade, into something else....but I still haven't answered that one nagging question. What is the best way to put out an alcohol stove/oven/fire?

I've heard throw water on it...I've heard "dont" throw water on it...I'd really like to hear from someone who knows for sure...

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RNGypsy03

Our dogs are still blogging from the boat. Follow along with Joey and Simon as they make their way to Costa Rica. Sailboat DogSailboat Dog
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post #2 of 40 Old 12-12-2010
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A fire blanket is a good choice—so is a CO2 fire extinguisher. A dry powder fire extinguisher would work but generally tends to leave a lot of nasty corrosive powdery mess behind, so isn't a great choice if you have other options.

The reason water isn't recommended for alcohol fires is that alcohol burns pretty well down to about 40% by volume. If you can't douse the fire with a very heavy spray of water and get the dilution down low enough and cool the area enough, the burning alcohol can pour down into the bilge and continue to burn there, sight unseen.

This is why the MSDS for a lot of alcohols often SPECIFY HEAVY WATER SPRAY as a fire extinguishing technique. However, this is generally not something we have available on a sailboat.

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Last edited by sailingdog; 12-12-2010 at 06:16 PM.
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post #3 of 40 Old 12-12-2010
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Your greatest risk for a fire is when you are refilling the cannisters or otherwise handling the alcohol. While the stove is operating there is almost no risk unless the stove becomes upset. So refill in the cockpit and have a fire blanket or wet towel at the ready and your risks will be greatly reduced.
I once fell asleep on the sofa after turning on an electric glass top stove to heat up a pot full of oil. I awakened to the popping and snapping of an electrical circuit shorting out (the vent hood) and saw the most flames I've ever seen inside a house. I grabbed up a table cloth, put it under the faucet and then put it over the flaming pot and grease puddles on the stove top. And it worked. Made a lot of smoke, which finally set off the fire alarm and ruined my wife's prized linen table cloth which had been hand woven for her by a friend. While the whole episode scared the be-jesus out of me that old training to use a fire blanket, then an extinguisher really paid off.
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post #4 of 40 Old 12-12-2010
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myself i use an old kenyon homestrand alcohol stove. refuel on deck and when ever im cooking or preheating the stove i have an old stovetop coffee pot full of water i place on top while preheating alcohol burns off usually has about 6 cups water in it to make tea later then after i finish cooking i put the pot on to boil and shut the stove off so in the event of a fire just as an incidental i have plenty of water to douse the fire with so far in all these years no fire but better safe than sorry. the only two times i have ever spilled alcohol is refueling about 2 ounces on deck and one time when filling preheat cup i spilled about 1/2 oz i just let it evap prior to lighting stove or wipe it up with napkin or small bit of tp. never saw a boat burned beyond repair from alcohol stove accident but have seen several go boom from leaky propane alcohol is safe as long as you pay attention to what you are doing like you should at all times on board.

Illegitimus Non Tatum Carborundum.

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post #5 of 40 Old 12-12-2010
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Long ago we had an alcchol stove. The only fire we've ever had aboard was due to a guest that did not understand the preheat stage required to burn the vapor. This resulted in a flow of burning liquid alcohol that he promptly extinguished with the pot of beef stew that he had planned to heat. Messy, but effective with this volume. I think the risk of spreading the fire with water or this method depends on the volume of alcohol. Take care and joy, Aythya crew
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post #6 of 40 Old 12-12-2010
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I would never again run a pressure alcohol stove. My last experience was trying to light one of these things after a period of sever weather during an overnight race; not realizing that the supply tube had fatigued and split and was pumping what i would guess would have been a litre or more of alcohol around my feet and into the bilge.

Images of a blue flamed human torch launching up into the cockpit and over the side still pop into my imagination....not sure what might have happened to the sleeping crew if the puddle had caught fire.
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post #7 of 40 Old 12-12-2010
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I have owned and lived aboard boats with alcohol and propane. The only problem I ever had was with alcohol, almost caught the boat on fire when alcohol leaked onto the stove top, caught on fire and I tried to douse it with water. Too much alcohol and not enough water resulted in burning alcohol washing down under the stove and onto the sole. Took a fire extinguisher and a huge mess to put it out.

With just a little attention and proper set up propane can be perfectly safe.

I recall a comment from Donald Street I read years ago. Something to the effect that he would rather be blown up all at one time by a propane stove than tortured slowly to death by an alcohol stove. I heartily agree.
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post #8 of 40 Old 12-13-2010
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I'd also point out that one of the most common causes of boat fires, according to BoatUS's book on 20 years of insurance claims, Seaworthy, was pressurized alcohol stoves. The decline in the use of those stoves has seen a dramatic decline in the number of boat fires.

The non-pressurized, Origo-type stoves are fairly safe as long as you remember to let the cans cool down completely before trying to re-fill them. Carrying an extra can aboard is not a bad idea, so that if you run out in the middle of cooking a meal, you're not trying to re-fill a hot can.

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post #9 of 40 Old 12-13-2010
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The timing of this post is perfect...considering I was cleaning up and testing a pressurized alcohol stove just yesterday. I'm new to most things boating. Could someone explain the preheating procedure that was mentioned a few posts back? My stove is old (but never used). I read the instructions a few times and then gave it a whirl. The first time I tried to light it I ended up turning the knob a tossing matches in its direction (I'll admit I was a little scared). Since that didn't cause an explosion I braved up and held a match right to the burner.

Unfortunately, while I was throwing all those matches, alcohol was running out of the burner and into the bottom of the stove top...it had filled up what looked like a little collection tray below the burner. When it lit, I had a foot high fire that burned for about 10 mins (I did all this outside the boat in my driveway and far away from anything else...cause I was scared).

The instructions didn't mention any preheating process to burn vapors. But I sure would like to know them.

After the big burn I experimented a little and got it lit safely a few times.

My complete refit is taking completely too long!
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My recommendation to you would be to dump the pressurized alcohol stove and either get an Origo, unpressurized setup or a propane one.
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Originally Posted by SailingWebGuy View Post
The timing of this post is perfect...considering I was cleaning up and testing a pressurized alcohol stove just yesterday. I'm new to most things boating. Could someone explain the preheating procedure that was mentioned a few posts back? My stove is old (but never used). I read the instructions a few times and then gave it a whirl. The first time I tried to light it I ended up turning the knob a tossing matches in its direction (I'll admit I was a little scared). Since that didn't cause an explosion I braved up and held a match right to the burner.

Unfortunately, while I was throwing all those matches, alcohol was running out of the burner and into the bottom of the stove top...it had filled up what looked like a little collection tray below the burner. When it lit, I had a foot high fire that burned for about 10 mins (I did all this outside the boat in my driveway and far away from anything else...cause I was scared).

The instructions didn't mention any preheating process to burn vapors. But I sure would like to know them.

After the big burn I experimented a little and got it lit safely a few times.

Sailingdog

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You know what the first rule of sailing is? ...Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take
a boat to the sea you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps
her going when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.

—Cpt. Mal Reynolds, Serenity (edited)

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