Gas Pumps Burst Into Flames
Static May be to Blame
by Steve Fowler - Fowler Associates
This Photo from Anderson
Independent-Mail by Tracy Glantz
Every year gas stations experience fires and explosions, some
of which are due to static discharges. We reported one such
incident last year. Aerosmith
Car Explodes. The latest report of an explosion was very
close to the offices of the ESD Journal. We took the opportunity
to do a little investigation.
The following is an account of the accident. Please
submit any comments you may have. This situation is very serious
and happens more than we would like to admit. Reportedly it
happens many hundreds of times per year. The contractor who
was installing the new pumps for the station below had personally
seen 3 such incidents in the past 20 years. All pumps are
required to have electrical connection between the nozzle and ground.
This allows the car to be discharged before the gas in started.
Is this sufficient? What can we do to help reduce the number
of car/gas/station explosions?
Anderson, SC Friday April 9, 1999
Two brothers pulled into the Texaco station on I-85
in Anderson county, South Carolina about 9:15 p.m.on April 8,1999
to get some gas (and some cigarettes) .
The driver got out of the car and began to pump
the gas into his Chevrolet Cavalier. He was joined by his brother
who stood near the car while the gas was being pumped. Their
car was nearly empty when they stopped at the station. After
pumping about five (5) gallons of gas they were startled by a flame
beginning in the car tank fill tube area.
Flames erupted very quickly engulfing the
gas nozzle and the hand of the man who was pumping the gas. He
immediately dropped the nozzle which continued to discharge gas
onto the asphalt. This gas quickly began to feed the flames
which had spread to the pump body and up into the canopy of the
station. The man who had been the passenger of the car rushed
over to the driver's door, opened it, jumped in and tried to start
it only to find the driver - who was busy trying to extinguish the
flames in the car gas tank fill area - had the keys.
He threw the manual drive car into neutral and with
the assistance of the driver pushed the car away from the
pumps and to safety. The station manager had heard the noises of
the commotion and hit the emergency shut off switch which immediately
stopped the flow of gasoline from the nozzle. The two brothers put
out the flames in the pump area with fire extinguishers.
Both men received minor burns but required no medical
treatment. The Cavalier will need a new tail light and paint job
but thankfully this story does not have a tragic ending. Everyone
did a very good job containing the explosive situation.
This station was undergoing renovations of its pumps.
All the old pumps were being changed out for the type with
credit card entry at the pump. This pump had been installed
just ten (10) days before the accident.
The accident is under investigation by the arson
squad of the Anderson Sheriff's Department and the insurance company.
Many unanswered questions remain. Was one or both of the men
smoking? They say not. There was no evidence of smoking
found at the scene. However, they were coming to the
station for gas and cigarettes. Did static cause the accident?
When the nozzle was placed into the fill tube of the car's
gas tank, would not the static charge on the car have been grounded?
What would cause the flames to initiate after 5 gallons
had been pumped? A quick check of the pump by this reporter
showed the nozzle to be electrically connected to the pump frame
and most probably to ground as it was installed. Could a person
who had just slid across a car seat, go to an area where gas is
being pumped and discharge to the car or nozzle area and have
this charge travel to ground through the nozzle thereby igniting
the gas fumes which are being expelled by the tank being filled?
Or was there an electrical arc in the car or pump?
Give us your comments. They may help stop
these accidents from happening in the future.