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Safe handling of methylated spitits

Although traditionally used in small quantities to pre heat parafin fuelled 'primus' type stoves, methylated spirits is used in much larger quantities as the fuel in 'Trangia' type stoves. These notes are prepared with the use of Trangia 'stoves' in mind, simply because of the quantity of fuel involved - but the dangers are just as real when methylated spirits is used for 'primus' stoves.

Methylated spirits is a liquid which readily vaporises creating a highly flammable vapour that is heavier than air. This vapour can be easily ignited from a nearby flame so the filling of stoves should be carried out well away from any naked flames, and never in a tent or enclosed space.

Any spilt fuel is also a source of danger as the liquid will continue to produce a flammable vapour until it has all evaporated. Even then, under calm conditions, the vapour can still linger and remain a danger. Any fuel spilt on cloth has the added danger of creating a resovoir of fuel, another reason to carry out filling away from tents.

Fuel spilt on or in a rucsac needs special care to ensure that it has thoroughly dried out before taking the rucsac into a tent or near a naked flame.

Fuel spilt on clothing should be regarded as potentially extremely dangerous and any fuel soaked clothing should be removed and allowed to dry well away from naked flames. Under no circumstances should such clothing be taken into an enclosed space like a tent until it is perfectly dry.

Another inherent danger with methylated spirits is the fact that the flame it produces is invisible in normal daylight conditions. Even under dull conditions, it is never a particularly bright flame. Being difficult to see, an inexperienced person can easily assume a stove is empty and needs filling. It is potentially lethal to attempt to refill a 'trangia' type burner when it is still lit. The result could easily be an explosion. If it is necesarry to refill a burner, assume it is still burning and go through the normal procedure of putting the burner lid over the flame to extiinguish. Wait until the burner has gone cold before refilling. A better way to work with 'trangia' type stoves is to have two burners per stove. The cold burner can be filled at the appropriate time so that there is no interruption to the cooking cycle. Allow the hot burner to cool down in a place of safety.

When purchasing 'trangia' type stoves, ask for details of burning time on one standard fill and also whether the model you intend to purchase has a burner control which will extend the burning time. There are various models from which to choose.

Never - under any circumstances - should methylated spirits be used to revive an open fire. Flash back to the container, with catastrophic results is inevitable.

Great caution should be exercised when disposing of containers if the previous or present contents are suspect. Under no circumstances should such containers be thrown onto an open fire.

Evidence from some serious accidents suggests that lack of training, especially ignorance of the characteristics of methylated spirits, was entirely to blame.

From a safety in scouting group leaflet
acknowledged to Derby north district council


Last updated: September 5, 2008