South Carolina Woman Narrowly Escapes Refueling Fire
January 12, 2003
Steve Fowler, Fowler Associates, Inc.
The following story is so much like many
others we have. If we had not heard about this from a
fireman attending a seminar, it would never have been
reported outside of the locality where it occurred. In
the past we have suspected that the vast majority of these
incidents go unreported. It has been reported in the Cheraw
Chronicle. As far as we know, that is the only news
media, which covered the incident. This incident is different
than most. The gasoline dispensing pumps were well signed
Wednesday January 7, 2003, at 7:15 p.m. Gretchen Barfield'
s life changed. She became one of thousands who have experienced
a refueling fire due to static electricity. Ms. Barfield
is more lucky than others like Anne Gauker (see
Anne's Story); Anne died, Ms. Barfield was unharmed.
While Ms. Barfield, escaped unharmed from the blaze, her
Ford Explorer SUV was totally destroyed. Reportedly, the
convenience store has some very good surveillance videos
of the event, which they say they will release after the
insurance investigation is finished. If we are allowed
to have a copy, we will add this video to the ones, which
we hope will continue to make the hazards of refueling
known to the public. One eyewitness stated that Ms. Barfield
looked like "an Angel jumping out of an inferno."
The fire occurred in the little town of
Chesterfield, South Carolina. The station was a Town and
Country Store which sells Phillips 66 gasoline. It is
located north of town at the intersection of Hwy's 742
to the Chesterfield Fire Department, Barfield pulled up
to the fueling station around 7:15 p.m., started pumping
gas into her Ford Explorer, locked the automatic nozzle
handle to keep the gas pumping and then got back in her
Chesterfield Fire Chief Michael White
said , "she (Barfield) told me she was sitting in
her car and saw flames shooting out of her gas tank,"
"That's when she tried to get out and remove the
gas hose from her gas tank."
If Ms. Barfield remembers the situation
correctly, this will be an interesting refueling fire
to investigate from an origin point of view. It is perceivable
that the vehicle could have ignited the vapors by being
running, by the dispensing gasoline static charges or
by another person or vehicle nearby. The most common cause
of these types of fires, however, is the person who gets
back in the car causes the ignition when they get back
out of the car charged with static electricity and approach
the nozzle at which point they discharge their static
in the vapor rich area around the nozzle.
After Ms. Barfield pulled the nozzle and
hose away from the car with the handle still latched open,
the hose continued to spray gasoline, dousing the entire
Explorer and surrounding concrete and causing a huge fire
within seconds. Ms. Barfield ran out of the flames, around
the burning vehicle and into the store.
Curtis, co-owner of T&C Grocery was quoted as saying.
"I've had customers talking on cell phones, smoking,
leaving their cars running, and nothing happened to them,"
"This poor girl just got cold and had her whole car
During this reporter's visit to the store,
I noticed that the gasoline dispensing pumps had many
static warning signs. Mr. Curtis stated that they had
been in place for about 2 years. This shows that even
with very good signage these incidents can still happen.
The question is "How do we get the refueling public
to read and heed these warnings?" This is the challenge
for the gasoline and auto industries.
We at the ESD Journal believe that these
warnings need to be " In Your Face." Not just
so much more small verbiage on the pump or canopy. The
most important warning for static electricity such as
"do not get back in your car" and "in case
of fire, do not remove nozzle" need to be emphasized.