A close friend and I were anchored in our separate boats off Fort Adams 2 seasons ago, to watch the Newport Folk Festival. My wife and our two 20-something kids were on True Blue, close by his 25 y/o Pearson 33, while he and his party guests got pretty wasted during the course of the afternoon.
Close to 5:00 pm, he decided to cook some food, pumped up his pressurized tank, but was distracted by the encore performance and went up into the cockpit. Apparently, his valve was open before he pressurized the tank - overflowing the burner cup and sending alcohol fuel down into his bilge.
No one knows for sure how much time passed before he attempted to pre-heat the burner. But when he did, the flame ignited the burner and quickly spread down into his bilge. Flames began to melt the fiberglass interior hull and ignited the wood sole, cushion fabric, cabinets and bulkheads. As the hundreds of anchored boat people watched, black smoke & flames were blazing from the ports & companionway, while most of the guests jumped off the boat. The captain and a friend however, stayed onboard and eventually put the flames out with water & flour - only after pulling up every floor board.
The boat was nearly totaled, took 2 years to restore, and is still unfinished. The owner since then, installed a propane system to current ABYC safety standards. Modern alcohol stoves may be safer today, but onboard alcohol as a cooking fuel is still terrifying to me. I have yet to hear about a propane fire in this area, but plenty of alcohol fires occur each year - including one we had on a former boat.
A few questions: If the burner was open, how did he achieve the required pressure when filling the system? Wouldn't happen on my pressurised alcohol stove. I would see I wasn't getting to 20lbs, and know something was wrong. Why didn't he smell the fumes when he entered the Galley to light the stove? This much alcohol in the Salon of a boat is going to have a significant odor. If it doesn't, the alcohol has evaporated already (which it does fairly rapidly). On my stove, you would have to pour at least two gallons of fuel onto the burners to allow it to flow down, fill up the bottom of the oven, overflow the containment pan below the stove, and flow into the bilge. No offense to your friend, but I believe your example is not an indictment of pressurised alcohol stoves as much as it is skippers who don't use common sense. He could have made similar mistakes with Propane, and everyone could have been BLOWEN off the boat! Quite simply, you have to pay attention when working with ANY fuels on a boat. Given the nature of the event and mistakes made, I wonder if the problematic alcohol wasn't in the stove at all, but in the Skipper!