Blamed for Virginia Gas Pump Fire
Chester County authorities believe
that a flash fire sparked by static electricity is to blame for
the burn injuries that a 10-year-old boy and his mother received
after they filled their car's gas tank at a local service station
at Hull Street and Turner Road.
The boy was reported in critical condition
at VCU Medical Center with burns to his face and torso. His mother
suffered less severe burns, and was listed in stable condition,
Chesterfield fire Capt. Keith Chambers said. The name's of the victims
have not been released at this time.
Shortly after the of the 8 a.m. blaze,
fire officials determined that static electricity was the likely
cause of the gas pump fire. The car was not damaged.
"It is rare, but it does occur,"
said Chambers, Chesterfield's deputy fire marshal.
Just before yesterday's fire, the mother
had finished pumping gas and removed the nozzle from her vehicle.
The car's engine apparently was off, witnesses told investigators.
The mother then passed the nozzle to her son, who was returning
it to the pump holder when a spark of static electricity ignited
gasoline vapors. The mother told investigators she saw flames around
the nozzle's tip. The spark was enough to ignite the fumes, and
set him on fire. He was rolling on the ground aflame, until someone
used a jacket to smother the flames.
"Usually those nozzles have some
residual gasoline left in them, depending how you pick them up out
of your vehicle," Chambers said.
Battalion Chief David E. Bailey said
firefighters arrived within four minutes of the call. Bailey said
a nearby Verizon employee, later identified by the company as Brian
Stanley, took off his coat and helped extinguish the flames on the
Although the investigation is continuing,
fire officials said they are almost certain that static electricity
is to blame. Chambers said static electricity is common in the winter
months, because the air is so dry.
Experts say the static usually builds
up when you move around on fabric seats in your car, and they say
there's an easy way to avoid disaster. "The big thing is just
touch some metal before you start pumping your fuel," says
Fairfax City Assistant Fire Chief Timothy Butters. "At some
point, you just touch that," he says pointing to a special
discharge plate at the city's refueling station. "That will
ground or discharge the static electricity."