Diesel Safety, Flammability, and Handling

Stockpiling the right supplies and goods means you’ll be ready for a rainy day. Unfortunately, hoarding certain supplies, like liquid fuels, can dramatically increase the fire hazard risk around your property, and make any resulting fire exponentially worse.

fuel canister

For this reason, we must strive to understand the fire hazard posed by anything we keep on hand and also how to deal with them if the time comes.

Let’s take diesel fuel, for instance. Is diesel flammable?

Yes, diesel fuel is highly flammable with a flash point between 125°F and 180°F. Although it’s not as quick or easy to ignite as gasoline, most types of diesel will still ignite readily and are a substantial fire especially when stored in quantity.

Popular conception is that diesel fuel is safer to store compared to gasoline because it’s less likely to ignite, and in some cases this is true.

However, diesel fuel will still ignite readily under the right conditions and is highly combustible, meaning that any fire resulting from it or any fire that reaches it will be a major risk to life and limb and it can easily level a building.

I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the fire risk posed by diesel below…

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Is Diesel Combustible?

Yes, diesel fuel is also considered combustible depending on what standard you use, e.g. OSHA, NFSA, etc.

Typically if an agency or organization considers a substance to have a flashpoint above what meets their criteria for “flammable,” it will be considered combustible.

Does Diesel Ignite at Any Temperature?

Yes, diesel fuel indeed has the potential to ignite- but under certain conditions. The primary factor that determines whether diesel will ignite is its flashpoint, the minimum temperature at which it can vaporize to form an ignitable mixture in air.

For diesel, this flash point typically falls between 1250° F and 180°F according to ConocoPhillips, depending on the specific type of diesel fuel.

It’s crucial to note that diesel needs to reach this flash point and be exposed to an open flame or spark for ignition to happen. Therefore, while diesel doesn’t ignite at just any temperature, it can certainly ignite at higher ones when presented with an ignition source.

Does Diesel React with High Temperature?

Absolutely, diesel reacts with high temperatures, leading to various effects you need to be aware of.

As the temperature rises, diesel fuel starts to emit more fumes, which, if not properly ventilated, can create a significant combustion hazard.

These fumes can become highly concentrated, leading to a dangerous situation if an ignition source is subsequently introduced.

Beyond safety concerns, high temperatures also affect how diesel functions in engines designed to use it. Diesel engines operate by compressing the fuel, which increases its temperature to a point where it ignites spontaneously.

This is known as diesel’s autoignition temperature. When diesel is exposed to high temperatures outside of this controlled environment, it can degrade, potentially affecting its performance in the engine.

Furthermore, high temperatures can cause diesel to undergo thermal cracking, a process where large hydrocarbon molecules break down into smaller ones.

This can alter the fuel’s composition and properties, again potentially impacting its effectiveness within an engine.

Different Categories of Diesel Fuel Have Different Flashpoints

The characteristics of diesel fuel can vary significantly depending on the specific type or blend. There are numerous varieties of diesel fuel available globally, with several types commonly used in the United States.

Each of these blends has unique properties, including different flash points, behavioral characteristics, and ignition temperatures.

A diesel fuel’s flashpoint is particularly crucial as it determines the minimum temperature at which the fuel can vaporize to form an ignitable mixture in air. This can vary considerably between different types of diesel.

For instance, some blends may have a lower flashpoint, making them more susceptible to ignition at lower temperatures.

Conversely, others might have a higher flash point, requiring higher temperatures for ignition to occur. Understanding these differences is essential for safe handling and use of different diesel fuels.

Diesel Fuel is More Combustible but Less Flammable than Gasoline

While diesel fuel and gasoline are both common types of fuel in vehicles and generators, they have distinctly different safety profiles.

Diesel fuel is often seen as safer to store than gasoline, but this is only partially true: The reality is that diesel fuel is less flammable but more combustible than gasoline. The terms are not synonymous if you care about safe storage!

Flammability refers to a substance’s ability to ignite easily at ambient temperatures. In this regard, gasoline is more flammable than diesel because it can ignite at lower temperatures and needs less heat to become a gas.

On the other hand, combustibility refers to a substance’s ability to burn, and how energetically it does so.

Diesel fuel is more combustible than gasoline, meaning it can burn for longer periods and produce more energy per unit volume. Meaning a nastier fire for you to deal with, potentially!

So while diesel may not ignite as easily as gasoline, once ignited it will burn intensely. These distinctions between flammability and combustibility are important to understand for your safe storage and handling protocols.

Diesel Fuel is Also a Contact and Inhalation Hazard

Diesel fuel poses more than just a combustion risk; it also represents a contact and inhalation hazard.

If diesel comes into direct contact with the skin, it can cause irritation and, in some cases, chemical burns. Long-term exposure can even lead to skin conditions such as dermatitis. Similarly, inhaling diesel fumes is harmful.

These fumes contain small particles and gases that can cause respiratory issues, headaches, dizziness, and nausea. In extreme cases, prolonged inhalation can lead to serious health conditions like lung diseases.

Therefore, it’s essential to handle and store diesel fuel with utmost care, ensuring adequate ventilation and use of protective gear.

Will Diesel Make a Fire Worse?

Absolutely, diesel fuel will terribly exacerbate an existing fire. As a combustible material, diesel serves as a primary fuel that can sustain and intensify a fire.

If this fuel comes into contact with a fire, it can significantly amplify the flames, making the fire much harder to control and extinguish.

This is due to the high energy content of diesel, which can burn for extended periods and generate intense heat.

Similarly, diesel fuel can initiate a fire if it comes into contact with an ignition source, such as a spark or high heat.

As such, it’s vital to keep diesel fuel away from any potential sources of ignition and to exercise extreme caution when dealing with fires near stored diesel.

Is Diesel Reactive with Other Substances?

Yes, diesel fuel can react adversely with certain substances. For instance, it can react with strong oxidants such as chlorates, nitrates, and peroxides, which can lead to a fire or intense heat generation.

Diesel fuel also doesn’t mix well with water. Instead of diluting or extinguishing the fuel, water can spread it, potentially leading to a larger fire.

Additionally, diesel can degrade certain types of rubber and plastic over time, leading to leaks. Fuel leaks make for very dangerous conditions for obvious reasons!

How Should You Deal with Diesel Exposed to Fire?

If diesel fuel catches fire, it’s essential to respond appropriately and immediately to have any hope of preventing the fire from spreading.

A CO2 fire extinguisher or other types of extinguishers specially designed for fuel fires, such as dry chemical or foam extinguishers, should be used.

These extinguishers work by removing the oxygen supply to the fire or by creating a barrier between the fuel and the fire.

Water is not ideal for combating a diesel fire. Since diesel and water do not mix, water can cause the burning fuel to spread, making the fire worse.

Furthermore, when water is heated rapidly by the fire, it can turn into steam almost instantly, which can spread the burning fuel even further.

Ensure you maintain a safe distance while using the fire extinguisher and aim at the base of the fire rather than the leaping flames themselves.

If the fire is too large or out of control, get out of there and call the fire department; nothing you own is worth your life!

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