Common Gas Pipes Pose Fire Hazard

CSST pipe, installed in many homes, can ignite if struck by lightning.

Oct. 16, 2007 — -- An estimated 2 million homes have a kind of pipe that can explode in flames during a lightning storm, but very few people are aware of it, as "Good Morning America" consumer correspondent Elisabeth Leamy found out.

That piping, called corrugated stainless steel tubing or CSST, is thinner and less expensive than heavy iron gas lines, but in a storm, it is more susceptible to an electrical charge that it can't carry.

Kathy Hood will never forget the rainstorm on Nov. 5, 2005. She was baby-sitting her grandkids for her son and daughter-in-law in Menomonee Falls, Wis., when she suddenly heard lightning hit the home.

"You can't believe it's happening," Hood said. "We all just kind of looked at each other and then the lights went out."

Her son Chris Hood, who was out of town and at dinner with his wife, soon received a message that his house had burned down.

The fire was linked to CSST and the Hoods weren't the only ones in town who found out the hard way about the dangers of the piping.

"We had three fires in four months in this neighborhood. All were a direct result of lightning strike and CSST," said Lt. Maxwell Brunner of the Menomonee Falls Fire Department.

Lawsuits Settled

Dallas lawyer Scott Carpenter represents insurance companies in several CSST lawsuits and has spent a lot of time inspecting damage from CSST-related fires sparked by lightning.

Carpenter says that because CSST is so thin the electrical energy lingers longer there. That built-up charge looks to get out through the path of least resistance, and that means it can blow out a hole in the gas tube, which can lead to fires.

OmegaFlex, Inc., a company that makes CSST, stands by its product.

"We believe that the product is safe when properly installed," Timothy Scanlan, the vice president and general counsel of OmegaFlex, told ABC News.

But four CSST makers recently settled a class-action lawsuit.

"We reluctantly agreed to settle the case, but only to put the matter behind us and to provide a solution for people who have CSST in their homes," Scanlan said.

The settlement provides money to fix problem pipes. A homeowner can bond the CSST to the electrical systems with thicker wire.

"It's like a highway. More lanes gets the traffic through faster. So a fatter wire will allow the current to dissipate faster," said Ted Lemoff of the National Fire Protection Association.

The class-action deadline has closed, so homeowners are responsible for their own fix if they have a CSST gas system. The best bet is to get an experienced electrician to do the work.

Meanwhile, the other companies involved in the class action also say their products are safe if installed properly. They say gas and electrical codes need to be beefed up and uniformly enforced.