Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on March 1, 2019.


A deadly gas pipe explosion exposes a widespread illegal practice in Mexico, but incidents remain rare


In January, 126 people were killed and dozens more injured when gasoline from an illegally tapped underground pipeline ignited, trapping scores of people who had gathered at the site to collect the fuel that spewed like “a geyser of gasoline,” according to the Washington Post.

The explosion and fire rocked a farm field in Tlahuelilpan, in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, on January 18.

While the dangerous fuel-siphoning practice is common throughout Mexico, incidents like the Tlahuelilpan explosion remain rare, said Antonio Macías, who represents NFPA in Mexico. When they do occur, though, the results can be catastrophic. An explosion at an illegal gas tap in another Hidalgo town in 2010 left 27 people dead, Macías said.

In 2018, almost 15,000 illegal taps were discovered in gas pipelines throughout Mexico, according to reports, and this theft of fuel reportedly drains billions of dollars from the state-run oil firm Pemex each year.

In the wake of the January explosion, newly elected president Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the government will crack down on fuel theft. “We have to continue with the plan to end fuel theft,” López Obrador said in a press conference, according to the New York Times. “We will not stop. We will eradicate this.”

The government’s strategy, the Times said, includes diverting fuel from the pipelines known to be tapped the most and transporting it instead by truck. This approach, however, has slowed gas delivery across Mexico, leaving gas stations dry and civilians hard-pressed to find fuel. Although the country’s armed forces are tasked with guarding the gas pipelines, soldiers reportedly didn’t stop anyone from collecting gas from the pipeline that blew in January, even though they were present.

Asked whether he thinks the most recent incident will effect change in the country, Macías said he was hopeful it would. “I think it’s already started to change because of the public pressure that comes with the deaths of more than 120 people,” he said. “There is a criminal investigation ongoing and security measures being explored.”

In addition, Mexico’s Safety of Energy and Environment Agency has been in contact with NFPA representatives like Macías in hopes of starting a collaboration and using NFPA codes and standards.

Paris, France

Apartment in deadly Paris blaze lacked safety systems

A fire in a nine-story apartment building in Paris in February killed 10 people in the deadliest blaze the city has experienced since 2005.

While much of the media coverage focused on the suspect who was arrested for arson in connection to the incident, a 40-year-old woman with a history of mental illness, the building itself reportedly lacked appropriate fire and life safety systems.

“The flames quickly engulfed the building, including the only staircase leading out,” the Associated Press reported. The building also lacked fire extinguishers, fire alarms, and fire doors, according to AP.

Complicating the incident further, many trapped residents were only accessible by windows overlooking an enclosed courtyard that was too small for fire trucks to fit inside.

The fire struck just weeks after an explosion at a Paris bakery killed three people and injured dozens more.

Dhaka, Bangladesh

Bangladesh blaze shows importance of NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem

In February, fire tore through a crowded neighborhood in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing at least 67 people and injuring dozens more, according to reports. The fire spread astonishingly quickly, aided by the presence of chemicals that were being stored among the neighborhood’s business and residential occupancies.

A 2010 fire in Dhaka, which also ignited in an area where civilians were living alongside chemical storage areas, killed over 120 people. At the time, the Bangladesh government pledged to address the issue of improper chemical storage, but those efforts seem to have fallen flat.

Firefighters look at the wreckage of a fire in a centuries-old neighborhood in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Mean Streets A fire in a centuries-old neighborhood in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed at least 67 people and highlighted the country’s ongoing struggle to provide a modicum of fire and life safety. Photograph: AP/Wide World

“While the process began with government recognition of the hazard, it needed more than just a push from government to build the framework [of safety],” NFPA President Jim Pauley concluded in a blog post days after the February fire. Pauley said the most recent Dhaka blaze serves as a perfect example of why it’s critical for countries to familiarize themselves with the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem.

“By way of example, according to the Ecosystem concept, full adherance to the codes and the referenced standards within [those codes] would provide the process for storing chemicals in designated areas away from the public,” Pauley said. “An informed and skilled workforce would better be able to identify and respond to dangerous actions [such as] the movement of stored chemicals from a once-designated separate place back to residential areas, and an informed public would be more vocal and diligent in encouraging change in the name of safety.”

Read Pauley’s full blog on NFPA Xchange at For more information on the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, visit

Dubai, UAE

Dubai to have region’s first government-run safety lab

The first government-run engineering lab to focus on fire safety in the Middle East will open in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), in June, according to Gulf News.

The new lab will “perform fire safety testing and fire performance assessment of various products, building materials, and systems,” Colonel Ali Al Mutawa, assistant director general for protection and safety at Dubai Civil Defence, told the newspaper.

One product the lab will test is exterior cladding. Combustible exterior cladding has been blamed for a number of high-rise fires in the UAE and around the world, including the Grenfell Tower fire that killed over 70 people in London in 2017. “Products like cladding material, electric cables, doors, decoration material, and paints should be fire-resistant,” Mutawa said. “The lab will make sure they meet the highest standards.”

NFPA offers several resources related to exterior wall fire safety, which are available at

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Getty Images