Bad Kerosene

Most of you in North America use some sort of electric refrigerator. Here in Guinea, most of us don’t get electricity often enough to use one like you have, so we have to find other options. The refrigerator that we use is kerosene-powered. It works pretty well, but you do need to use good, clean kerosene; otherwise you can have a real mess on your hands. Well, one day, when I didn’t find any kerosene at the station I usually go to, so I bought some elsewhere. It’s not like the fridge will work without it.

Most of you in North America use some sort of electric refrigerator. Here in Guinea, most of us don’t get electricity often enough to use one like you have, so we have to find other options. The refrigerator that we use is kerosene-powered. It works pretty well, but you do need to use good, clean kerosene; otherwise you can have a real mess on your hands. Well, one day, when I didn’t find any kerosene at the station I usually go to, so I bought some elsewhere. It’s not like the fridge will work without it.

When I first used it in the fridge, I could tell something was amiss. The color of the flame changed from its usual blue tint to a more yellow flame. We could also tell from the odor that it wasn’t burning as well as it should. I figured it was a bad batch of kerosene, which happens from time to time. But since it seemed to keep the fridge cold enough, I didn’t worry about it. Now at this point, it had been mixed in with about half a tank of good kerosene, but as I had to keep adding more fuel, both the flame and the smell got worse. We noticed the same thing in a small kerosene stove we use to cook rice and fish for our dogs: a little more soot on the pot, a little more smoke, a stronger odor in the air. But it was still working, so I thought we might be ok.

We left town for a few days to head upcountry for a meeting. I filled the fridge before we went and trimmed the wick so it would keep the fridge cold while we were gone. It worked well enough, but at our return, the fridge was giving out more smoke, and the smell was stronger still. So I bent over the back of the fridge, cleaned the wick and chimney, and decided that the next day, I had to switch to some better kerosene. I figured I could probably burn the rest of the bad kerosene in the generator if I mixed it with enough gas. But since it was evening and I didn’t want to mess with it in the dark, I’d just clean the parts the best I could for the night and worry about it in the morning.

Well, I cleaned the fridge, but couldn’t seem to get it going again. It smoked terribly and left a layer of ash on everything in the kitchen. It was clear that we weren’t going to make much progress. I cleaned everything up, washed the floor, then left it be and went to bed. In the morning I tried again to light the fridge, but couldn’t get the wick to take a flame at all. Too much bad kerosene in the mix. I decided I’d not only have to dump the bad fuel, I’d also have to change the wick while I was about it.

I pulled out the tank and took it out into the garage to drain it. I needed some place to put the bad fuel, so I left that tank sit while I tried to mix the rest of the bad batch with some gasoline for the generator. I carried the gas can out to the generator and started to fill it. But something struck me as funny about the gasoline. I took a closer look and gave a sniff. Then I took a little out and rubbed it between my fingers. To confirm my suspicions I got a match, dipped a handy leaf into the fuel, then lit the leaf. Ok, it burned a bit, but it didn’t go up with a “whoosh” like it should have. That ‘gasoline’ was really kerosene. Which made me wonder what was in my kerosene can.

I went back to the garage, took a piece of paper, dipped it into the tank from the refrigerator and then lit it. “Whoosh!” Guess what was in my refrigerator? You guessed it: gasoline. Now, I’ve worked with fuels enough to know how gasoline burns and how kerosene burns. The gas did not have a strong, typical gasoline smell, but when I pulled it out of the refrigerator tank and lit the match, it burned quite well, thank you. And I’ve used it to power my generator for a couple of weeks with satisfactory results. But that isn’t the real point of the story.

I know what should have happened to that gasoline when it was in the fridge, and what should have happened to what we were burning in the little stove. It should have gone up in a flash. It probably would have burned me badly in the process. It could have even exploded. The tank on the fridge holds a couple of gallons, and has enough venting to leave a fair amount of vapors to escape – certainly enough to burn. But the night before, I was trying to light the wick and couldn’t get it to burn. Had it done what it could have done, given the way I have to crouch behind the fridge to fill and light it, there is no way I could have gotten out.

The only explanation I can give is that the Lord decided that this bit of gasoline was not going to burn as long as it was in the fridge. And it wouldn’t, not until I took it out and put it in something else. He also decided that He was going to keep me in one piece, for which I am very thankful. I do feel a little foolish for not having recognized the difference or the mix up in the fuels, but I am thankful that mistake didn’t cost a high price. I don’t know what else He has for us to do in Guinea, but He isn’t finished with us yet. Rather nice to know, but between you and me, I’d rather not put it to the test.

Sign me “Grateful”
G*****

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