Fuel Geyser Awareness Project Updates

By Paul Keller

There’s updated news on the “Fuel Geyser Project” front.

The U.S. Forest Service National Technology and Development Program’s National Fuel Geyser Project’s ongoing efforts to minimize injury to employees from fuel geysering recently posted a range of insightful information on their activities. The “National Fuel Geyser Awareness” program is a function of the NWCG Equipment Technology Committee.

These updates include fuel geyser incidents in 2018, fuel geyser incidents by manufacturer, and by incident type. In addition, this map (below) has been provided that indicates where fuel geyser incidents occurred from 2015 to 2018.

Updated Fuel Geyser Map

The Technology and Development Program’s National Fuel Geyser Project awareness updates now include: Recent Accomplishments and Next Steps/Actions Planned. Other subjects include: Alternative Solutions and Risk Analysis; Implementation Risk Factors; and Fuel Solutions.

Fuel Geyser Incidents in 2018

There were a total of 28 fuel geyser incidents reported in 2018. Twenty-three of these were chainsaw incidents (21 with Stihl chainsaws and 2 with Husqvarna chainsaws). Four incidents occurred with fuel containers, and one incident occurred with a leaf blower.

Fuel Geyser Incidents the Past Two Years

From 2017 through 2018, fuel geyser incidents were reported during these activities: Chainsaw (43 incidents); Fuel Transport Container (6 incidents); Leaf Blower (3 incidents); Brush Saw (1 incident); ATV (1 incident).

Alternative Solutions and Risk AnalysisFHP

The National Technology and Development Program’s National Fuel Geyser Project members have also been studying potential solutions to prevent fuel geysering.

These alternative solutions that have been identified include: 1) Vaporless Refueling Systems; 2) Formalized Fuel Geyser Training; 3) Standard Saw/Requirements; 4) No Gas Chainsaws; 5) Specialized Fuel; and 6) Fuel Conditioning.

Fuel Solutions

The specialized fuel alternative would involve low volatility fuel. This solution would be three years out for potential implementation.

Fuel conditioning would reduce fuel volatility. The technology for this is not currently available. This may also violate emissions regulations.


A key recommendation of the National Fuel Geyser Project is to continue its field evaluation of vaporless refueling systems. This effort would include 50 test crews and 30,000 refueling cycles. It would occur from May through November of this year.

This field evaluation would be implemented on all handheld-engine powered engines (including chainsaws, string trimmers and blowers).

Next Steps

The following ongoing development efforts will continue in the near term:

  • Vaporless Refueling System – by Industry and the National Technology and Development Program
  • Saw Specification/Requirements – by the National Technology and Development Program
  • Training – by Saw Program/Office of Safety and Occupational Health (OSOH)

The National Fuel Geyser Project’s communication plan now includes a “National Awareness Campaign” and disseminating information on the “Implementation of Fuel Geyser Solutions”.

In addition, these action priorities will continue to be pursued:

  • Continue Fuel Geyser Reporting
  • Assess effectiveness of solution
  • Re-evaluate implementation strategy annually

National Fuel Geyser Awareness Website

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


10 thoughts on “Fuel Geyser Awareness Project Updates

  1. This is a problem easily solved with training. The other options mentioned don’t seem viable, or simply raise other problems. Three or four years ago there was a WFSTAR video that clearly and simply outlined a procedure to avoid geysers. There are always attempts to render our technologies foolproof, and that is laudable, but sometimes the best course is to make humans mindful instead. So far as I can tell, every geyser is human error. (A return to threaded fuel tank caps might help, and could be the cleanest technological mitigation.) As I read of these proposed technical solutions for geysers, I thought of the current problem with the Boeing 737 Max 8 airliner. The autopilot (that is, mindlessness by definition) software was apparently designed to overcome the potential problem of stalls due to a design flaw, and pilots, even when they take the controls cannot over-ride it. Autopilot is a wonderful tool, but where do you draw the line between technology and human mindfulness? It seems to me that geysers would readily respond to trained and mindful operators. We cannot even make multi-multi-million dollar aircraft foolproof, but surely firefighters — once fully apprised of the hazard — are smart enough to safely open a fuel cap.

  2. My primary job as an arborist involves operation of saws and leaf blowers on a daily basis year round. My daily experiences with geysers leads me to believe (contrary to some of what is in print) the geyser is created by the A) ethanol fuels and B) factory designs that remove external venting and replace it with internal venting for EMISSIONS driven reasons and C) is directly related to to changes in temperature up or down with ethanol based fuels used in closed vent emissions designs.
    I base this on having experienced geysers year round but the ones in January when temps went from 15F to 35F in an few hours and also a few times with blowers that have sat unused for multiple days only to have them geyser when opened to refuel have really got my attention. We are all lead to believe this only occurs on very hot days. Not so in my daily experience.
    Everyone blames the cap design. All the blowers I had ever had geyser had threaded caps…. so throw that poor cap design thought out.
    I am sure the final answer will be found in some type of overpriced overdesigned overgovernmentregulated piece of plastic technology at some point. Attempting to just barely crack open a 1/4 turn or screw cap to prevent a geyser is a folly at best. So for now myself and my folks on the job and on the fireline will continue to put a trusty rag over the cap before loosening it and our SA will be on a high level to be prepared for it.

    • ClimberFaller hit it right on the head
      These damn things aren’t airplanes….i know, I operate both.
      The cap is fine but was probably designed by some chairborne bastard that MIGHT have operated a saw
      The rag idea….that man or woman ought get a Guv USDA-FS sponsored $1000 USD idea award.

  3. New technology & design may have introduced additional factors, but I learned my first lessons about fuel geysers in the 1970s-80s. No ethanol, external venting, threaded caps on top of the saw. But still, Whooosh!

    I like the quarter-turn caps, but an advantage of threads is that they remain engaged when the venting occurs, providing an opportunity to quickly cut off the fuel flow when your brain finally kicks in. That’s why I have a story to share instead of scars.

    In the long run, the only fix I believe in: don’t open fuel containers in the presence of an ignition source. That can be complicated or annoying on a fire or with boiling fuel, but — just like hot-fueling or hot-loading of any transport vehicle — any advantage of the shortcut must be worth the added peril.

    • If you have a vent design not vulnerable to clogging — and can be readily cleared when it clogs anyway. I’m not familiar with that design, and recall more pressurized fuel tanks when they were externally vented than I have recently. YMMV.

  4. well having been on a hand crew for the last 19 seasons and working every position from fng to crwb in my opinion the solution is simple don’t refuel near the black always in the green kinda easy for the saw team to understand that if you use gas near fire bad things happen if people who want to run saw can’t follow simple rules well maybe you should not allow them to run saw also if they are not running the saw out of gas why are they refueling anyways no gas no geysers

    • firefighter
      Good reply
      Is this a blog where Common Sense can be introduced without a new Project being mandated??

  5. It’s a training and human factors issue. We used to talk about fuel tank pressurization, we even had a chapter about it in the old S-212 curriculum. How many people are actually opening the quarter turn or flip cap style caps correctly? The video that came out a few years ago, doesn’t even discuss it. Turn the cap approx 1/8 turn and you’ll feel an indent that will allow it to release the pressure, the cap is still “locked” on and won’t come off in this position. Once the pressure has equalized you then turn it the rest of the way to remove the cap. We’re seeing this in all of our fuel containers, so clearly an engineering change on one piece of equipment will not fix the situation.

    Also, as someone with quite a bit of experience with “vaporless refueling systems” their system will just transfer the pressure between the two tanks. They are using a tiny version of the “dry break” fuel systems that are used in the racing world. With those systems you still have to vent to the outside at some point.

  6. Pingback: Fuel Geysering: Incidents and Testing | Patrick Daniel Law

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