Fuel Geyser Awareness

Misc Fireline Hazards
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Apr 2019


Hazard triangle with fumes blowing up on person, with words Fuel, Heat, and Pressure around outside edges of triangle.Fuel geysers continue to injure firefighters. Although the 2017 fire season is only at its midpoint, two firefighters have received burn injuries from fuel geysers. There are also reports of additional fuel geysers that did not result in burn injuries. Please continue to report any fuel geyser event on the Fuel Geyser Reporting Form , even if it seems insignificant.

A heated fuel tank can build excessive pressure and cause a fuel geyser when a firefighter opens it. It is important to remember that fuel, heat, and pressure can produce the conditions that may lead to a fuel geyser. These three can create a fuel geyser event through a variety of conditions, one may not be like the next. The temperature of an air-cooled engine continues to increase for a short time after a firefighter shuts off the engine or the engine dies. There are no hard rules or a set amount of time to determine when a fuel tank is cool enough to open. Assume all gas-powered equipment and fuel containers are pressurized. Through a working shift in warmer temperatures, the fuel tanks vary in temperature and pressure, but can reach up to temperatures of 115 *F, and up to 17 PSI.  

Watch the video at https://youtube.com/MgWgVDN8e5s to see how a fuel geyser affected a hotshot crewmember:

To help keep gas-powered equipment running cooler:

  • Keep the equipment’s chain/blade sharp and maintain it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommended gasoline and two-stroke oil mix ratio.
  • Minimize the equipment’s exposure to radiant heat or direct sunlight. This impacts the temperature inside the fuel tank, raising the temperature on average about 5 degrees higher than those left out of direct sunlight.
  • Fuel geysers are more likely to occur if you observe the following indicators:
    • The fuel level is half a tank or more.
    • The engine performs as if it is running out of fuel, bogs down, or has a rapid change in RPM.
    • The engine dies and is difficult to restart.
    • The equipment has a quarter-turn fuel cap.
  • Use the following procedures to help protect yourself from fuel geysers:
    • Check the fuel tank level by visually inspecting the opaque tank, not by removing the cap.
    • Place hot equipment in the shade, out of the black, and try to increase airflow to promote cooling.
  • Never open a fuel tank within 20 feet of any heat source.
  • Avoid using fuel that has been stored in a fuel container for longer than 1 month.
  • If you need to open a fuel tank, put the equipment in a cleared area, cover the cap with a cloth, and open the tank slowly. 

For more information or if you experience a fuel geyser, go to the National Fuel Geyser Awareness website at https://www.nwcg.gov/committees/equipment-technology-committee/national-fuel-geyser-awareness​.


Additional Resources

Incident Management Situation Report (IMSR)
Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461
NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510
RT-130, Wildland Fire Safety Training Annual Refresher (WFSTAR)
Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book)
Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

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