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IT IS NOT uncommon for small fires to flare up as twigs and leaf litter collect next to the exhaust manifold of a bulldozer when clearing scrubland.

But it can become a serious and life-threatening drama if the bulldozer’s air-conditioning system has been retrofitted with hydrocarbon refrigerant.

Luckily nobody was hurt when a bulldozer stick fire in North Queensland escalated to an inferno that required three fire extinguishers to put out, but the machine needed extensive and expensive repairs.

It was the first time the bulldozer had been used since its air-conditioner had been filled with hydrocarbons, and the owner had also retrofitted two tractors with the same stuff.

Needless to say, the owner quickly saw the error of their ways and tasked Kim McNamara of mobile operator Flinders Diesel Service to repair the bulldozer and restore both tractors to R134a.

“The owner of the whole business was driving the bulldozer at the time, and it scared him badly,” Kim told SightGlass News.

Kim’s invoice was substantial because it took two whole days to repair and replace the wiring loom, hoses and belts that had been destroyed in the fire.

The customer also had to cop the cost of the 600km round-trip between his location and Kim’s base. But he was no doubt grateful to have escaped with just a hole in his bank balance.

Risk in Fire. Computer Graphics.

When Kim first established his business in Hughenden, situated between Townsville and Mt Isa, he was the only operator in town licensed for automotive air-conditioning. As a result he initially found that one in every two or three AC jobs were on vehicles that had been charged with hydrocarbon refrigerant.

In addition to the arrival of a second licensed operator locally, Kim said the post-Carbon-Tax R134a price reduction has contributed to the number of hydrocarbon-filled systems plummeting to just one in 10.

But he believes the lack of licensing requirements when buying hydrocarbon refrigerant remains the biggest drawcard for these products.

“The only advantage now is convenience, which is the biggest advantage in the world, especially in remote and rural areas such as where we live because qualified trade is expensive,” said Kim.

He described the people armed with a cylinder of hydrocarbon refrigerant, an internet tutorial and some guesswork as “building a bomb by playing with highly pressurised flammable gas in a confined space”.

“It’s quite a common thing out here because we’re very rural and people take it upon themselves to be their own mechanic,” he said.

“Tool shops sell hydrocarbon refrigerant and there is a significant number of people watching YouTube and doing it themselves.”

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