A man was badly burned when a propane tank exploded in the woods outside Sultan early Wednesday morning, Jan. 24.

Fire District 5 Chief Merlin Halverson said large piles of debris and some forest caught fire down Ben Howard Road around 5:30 a.m. Other people in the area at the time were able to escape uninjured.

Halverson said the site was likely an encampment. Tents and trailers were set up not far from each other. Tarps, car parts and mattresses were burning, he said.

Neighboring agencies also responded, Halverson said. Firefighters reported hearing other propane tanks exploding further back in the woods. They stayed at a distance to avoid being hit by wreckage.

“We try to not risk firefighters’ lives to save property, only to save lives,” he said.

Halverson said crews had the blaze under control within about 30 minutes of arriving. It took about 2 1/2 hours to put the flames out completely, he said.

The tank that exploded and those seen at the location were the 4-gallon steel apparatus that go on a barbecue. He said he is not sure exactly sure what led up to the event that caused one to explode. It is also unknown who owns the property the encampment was on.

The victim was able to walk away from the fire by himself, Halverson said. He went to a neighbor’s home, where they called 911. He was then flown to Harborview Medical Center.

Halverson said the man had burns on more than half of his body. The Snohomish County Fire Marshal arrived at the scene and is now investigating.

It was a lucky break that the accident occurred in the winter, Halverson said. Had it been in the warmer months the fire could haven been much harder to control. The explosion occurred in an open area, but the fire did not become too large to manage, he said.

The National Fire Protection Association recorded a yearly average of 1,170 home structure fires that involved propane between 2003-2007. Nearly three dozen people were killed, 135 injured and $48 million in property damage was reported as a result.