All this month, propane tanks have been disappearing from stores in Richmond County. It's not that unusual, cops say, but it is alarming. The small, typically white tanks contain a highly flammable liquid that becomes a gas when used.
Law-abiding citizens use them to cook steaks and burgers on backyard grills, but they also can be resold to fire the cooker in a meth lab. Perhaps most alarming, they could become the explosive element in a bomb.
This week, workers at Sunni's Neighborhood Market on Lumpkin Road reported the theft of 10 canisters, valued at $520, a sheriff's report said. Thieves appear to have cut their way into an outdoor storage unit to get to the 25-pound cans. Earlier this month, 16 canisters were taken from two Wrightsboro Road stores.
That theft recently appeared as a top item on the Department of Homeland Security's Daily Open-Sourced Infrastructure Report. It keeps Homeland Security personnel up to date on everything from power plant accidents to computer viruses.
Ken Davis, a spokesman for the Georgia office of Homeland Security, said the department regularly coordinates with local law enforcement to pass along information when dangerous items or threats are detected.
Richmond County Sheriff's Investigator Charles Mulherin said the department's bomb squad hasn't received any information that would cause alarm. It's likely the gas was stolen to make drugs or to resell, perhaps as a heating fuel.
"The criminal enterprise, they're pretty smart at figuring out what people need and what people want at that time and exploiting that any way they can," Mulherin said.