‘Safe and easy-to-use’ propane torch engulfed Pierce County man in flames, suit says

Brandon Austin, before his injuries.
Brandon Austin, before his injuries.

Brandon Austin said he was using a propane torch to burn weeds in his Spanaway yard when he heard gas escaping near the handle and suddenly was engulfed in flames.

Austin, who is in his mid 20s, is suing Harbor Freight Tools in U.S. District Court in Tacoma over the accident.

“Anytime you’re sent to Harborview (Medical Center) to treat your burns, you have a sense of how serious the situation was,” said Austin’s attorney, Darrell Cochran. “But he’s working through it. He’s a tough guy.”

A spokeswoman said Harbor Freight Tools does not comment on pending litigation.

Austin’s lawsuit, filed Dec. 11, gives this account:

He bought the Greenwood Propane Torch (Harbor Freight owns the trademark) on on May 31.

It arrived seven days later in a box labeled: “The safe and easy-to-use portable torch to control weeds, or clear ice from sidewalks and driveways.”

“That was clearly not the case here,” Cochran said.

Austin used the torch and its attached propane tank for the first time Aug. 25. About 20 minutes later he burst into flames. He dropped the torch and rolled on the ground, which set his lawn on fire.

As the flames spread, Austin grabbed a hose and sprayed water for about 10 minutes, until most of the propane had left the tank.

Then he grabbed a fire extinguisher from inside his home and aimed it at the torch, after which he was able to shut off the valve of the propane tank.

“Once Austin was able to successfully control the fire, his adrenaline began to subside, and he finally began to realize the true extent of his injuries,” the suit states. “Austin felt immense pain throughout his entire body.”

He called 911, got into a bathtub with cold water and passed out from shock. Paramedics took him to a local hospital, where he was treated for second- and third-degree burns on his finger tips, hands, arms and face.

The burns were serious enough that he was transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Austin’s lawsuit says the hose near the handle of the torch might have cracked or burst, causing the flames to spread.

He had no warning that the “hose could crack or burst during its first use causing the user to be covered in flames,” according to the suit.

Harbor Freight recalled a different propane torch in 2001, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The action was prompted by two reports of torch hoses cracking and bursting into flames, causing third-degree burns to one consumer and first-degree burns to the other.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell