Flames subsequent to a flammable liquid BLEVE from a tanker. (BLEVEs do not necessarily involve fire).

A boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (BLEVE, /ˈblɛv/ BLEV-ee) is an explosion caused by the rupture of a vessel containing a pressurized liquid that has reached a temperature above its boiling point.[1][2] Because the boiling point of a liquid rises with pressure, the contents of the pressurized vessel can remain a liquid as long as the vessel is intact. If the vessel's integrity is compromised, the loss of pressure drops the boiling point, which can cause the liquid to convert to a gas expanding rapidly. If the gas is combustible, as in the case with hydrocarbons and alcohols, further damage can be caused by the ensuing fire.


There are three key elements that cause a BLEVE.[3]

  1. A substance in liquid form at a temperature above its normal atmospheric pressure boiling point.
  2. A containment vessel maintains the pressure that keeps the substance in liquid form.
  3. A sudden loss of containment that rapidly drops the pressure.

Typically, a BLEVE starts with a container of liquid which is held above its normal, atmospheric pressure boiling temperature. Many substances normally stored as liquids, such as CO2, propane, and other similar industrial gases have boiling temperatures far below room temperature when at atmospheric pressure. In the case of water, a BLEVE could occur if a pressurized chamber of water is heated far beyond the standard 100 °C (212 °F). That container, because the boiling water pressurizes it, must be capable of holding liquid water at very high temperatures.

If the pressurized vessel, containing liquid at high temperature (which may be room temperature, depending on the substance) ruptures, the pressure which prevents the liquid from boiling is lost. If the rupture is catastrophic, where the vessel is immediately no longer capable of holding any pressure, then there suddenly exists a large mass of liquid which is at a very high temperature and very low pressure. This causes a portion of the liquid to "instantaneously" boil, which in turn causes an extremely rapid expansion. Depending on temperatures, pressures and the substance involved, that expansion may be so rapid that it can be classified as an explosion, fully capable of inflicting severe damage on its surroundings.

Water example

For example, a tank of pressurized liquid water held at 204.4 °C (400 °F) might be pressurized to 1.7 MPa (250 psi) above atmospheric ("gauge") pressure. If the tank containing the water were to rupture, there would for a brief moment exist a volume of liquid water which would be at:

At atmospheric pressure the boiling point of water is 100 °C (212 °F) - liquid water at atmospheric pressure does not exist at temperatures higher than 100 °C (212 °F). At that moment, the water would boil and turn to vapour explosively, and the 204.4 °C (400 °F) liquid water turned to gas would take up significantly more volume (≈1,600-fold) than it did as liquid, causing a vapour explosion. Such explosions can happen when the superheated water of a boiler escapes through a crack in a boiler, causing a boiler explosion.

BLEVEs without chemical reactions

A BLEVE does not have to be a chemical explosion, nor does there need to be a fire: however, if a flammable substance is subject to a BLEVE, it may also be subject to intense heating, either from an external source of heat which may have caused the vessel to rupture in the first place, or from an internal source of localized heating such as skin friction. This heating can cause a flammable substance to ignite, adding a secondary explosion caused by the primary BLEVE. While the blast effects of any BLEVE can be devastating, a flammable substance such as propane can add significantly to the danger.

While the term BLEVE is most often used to describe the results of a container of flammable liquid rupturing due to fire, a BLEVE can occur even with a non-flammable substance such as water,[4] liquid nitrogen,[5] liquid helium or other refrigerants or cryogenics, and therefore is not usually considered a type of chemical explosion. Note that in the case of liquefied gasses, BLEVEs can also be hazardous because of rapid cooling due to the absorption of the enthalpy of vapourization (e.g. frostbites), or because of possible asphyxiation if a large volume of gas is produced and not rapidly dispersed (e.g. inside a building, or in a trough in the case of heavier-than-air gasses), or because of the toxicity of the gasses produced.


BLEVEs can be caused by an external fire near the storage vessel causing heating of the contents and pressure build-up. While tanks are often designed to withstand great pressure, constant heating can cause the metal to weaken and eventually fail. If the tank is being heated in an area where there is no liquid, it may rupture faster without the liquid absorbing the heat. Gas containers are usually equipped with relief valves that vent off excess pressure, but the tank can still fail if the pressure is not released quickly enough.[1] Relief valves are sized to release pressure fast enough to prevent the pressure from increasing beyond the strength of the vessel, but not so fast as to be the cause of an explosion. An appropriately sized relief valve will allow the liquid inside to boil slowly, maintaining a constant pressure in the vessel until all the liquid has boiled and the vessel empties.[6]

If the substance involved is flammable, it is likely that the resulting cloud of the substance will ignite after the BLEVE has occurred, forming a fireball and possibly a fuel-air explosion. If the materials are toxic, a large area will be contaminated.[7]


The term "BLEVE" was coined by three researchers at the Factory Mutual insurance company, in the analysis of an accident at one of their research facilities in 1957 involving a chemical reactor vessel.[8]

On 18 August 1959, the Kansas City Fire Department suffered its second largest loss of life in the line of duty, when a 25,000 gallon (95,000 liters) gasoline tank exploded during a fire on Southwest Boulevard, killing 5 firefighters.[9][10]

Examples of other BLEVE incidents have included:

Safety measures

Some fire mitigation measures are listed under liquefied petroleum gas.

Transport Canada published a training video for emergency response personnel to respond to and prevent BLEVEs.[28] They also advise that expert advice can be obtained from Transport Canada's Canadian Transport Emergency Centre, CANUTEC.[29]

See also


  1. ^ a b Kletz, Trevor (March 1970). Critical Aspects of Safety and Loss Prevention. London: Butterworth–Heinemann. pp. 43–45. ISBN 0-408-04429-2.
  2. ^ "What firefighters need to know about BLEVEs". FireRescue1. 23 July 2020. Archived from the original on 26 July 2020.
  3. ^ CCPS (Center for Chemical Process Safety (2011). Guidelines for Vapor Cloud Explosion, Pressure Vessel Burst, BLEVE, and Flash Fire Hazards. Wiley. ISBN 9781118209875.
  4. ^ "Temperature Pressure Relief Valves on Water Heaters: test, inspect, replace, repair guide". Inspect-ny.com. Archived from the original on 1 August 2012. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
  5. ^ Haywood, Bryan. "Liquid Nitrogen BLEVE Demo Vid #1". www.safteng.net.
  6. ^ S., W. (2008). Pressure Relief Valves. Pressure Relief Valve (PRV). Retrieved 2023-08-03.
  7. ^ "Chemical Process Safety" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
  8. ^ David F. Peterson, BLEVE: Facts, Risk Factors, and Fallacies Archived 3 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Fire Engineering magazine (2002).
  9. ^ "The Southwest Boulevard Fire: Kansas City Remembers a Tragedy". FIREHOUSE. 30 November 2009.
  10. ^ "The Southwest Boulevard Fire". YouTube. 14 August 2009. Archived from the original on 23 November 2020.
  11. ^ Fire Brigades Union. (n.d.). Cheapside street fire, Glasgow: 28th March 1960. Fire Brigades Union. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  12. ^ Bonty, J. (2020, June 20). The day crescent city became a fireball. The Daily Journal. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  13. ^ Memorial Monday - Kingman Explosion (AZ) - NFFF. National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. (2021, July 24). Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  14. ^ "54 HURT IN BLAST OF FREIGHT CARS". New York Times. Oneonta, NY. 12 February 1974. Retrieved 19 February 2023.
  15. ^ "State ex rel. Vapor Corp. v. Natick". Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. 12 July 1984. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  16. ^ "New Martinsville, WV Liquid Oxygen Explosion, Feb 1978 | GenDisasters ... Genealogy in Tragedy, Disasters, Fires, Floods".
  17. ^ "Pemex LPG Terminal, Mexico City, Mexico". 19 November 1984. Retrieved 8 March 2023.
  18. ^ "Getting Into the European Market". boral.com History. Boral. Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  19. ^ "INVESTIGATION REPORT - Propane Tank Explosion". U.S. Chemical Safety Board. 23 June 1999.
  20. ^ "Herrig Brothers Farm Propane Tank Explosion". U.S. Chemical Safety Board. 23 June 1999.
  21. ^ Lawlor, M. (2018, August 10). 10-year anniversary of the Sunrise Propane explosion. CityNews. Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  22. ^ "Loy Lange Box Company Pressure Vessel Explosion". U.S. Chemical Safety Board. 29 July 2022.
  23. ^ "Pressure Vessel Explosion at Loy-Lange Box Company". U.S. Chemical Safety Board. 29 July 2022.
  24. ^ "Bologna tanker truck explosion leaves two dead". BBC News. 6 August 2018. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  25. ^ "Tanker explodes on the road near Bologna airport". The Local Italy. 6 August 2018. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  26. ^ "Boksburg tanker explosion: Police arrest driver for culpable homicide after 15 confirmed dead". news24.
  27. ^ a b c "BLEVE Safety Precautions" (PDF). noaa.gov. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2016. Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 April 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2020.
  28. ^ a b c d "BLEVE – Response and Prevention". tc.canada.ca. Transport Canada. 26 November 2018. Archived from the original on 17 July 2020. Retrieved 16 July 2020.
  29. ^ "CANUTEC".