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Virginia Woman Escapes Injury from Gas Station Fire Caused by Static electricity

"Just a total fireball, up under the vehicle, around the vehicle."
Skip Ritzman, Lynchburg Fire Department

Click here to see video

November 26, 2007
Paraphrased by Steve Waldrop

It may be a one in a million chance but with over eleven billion refuelings in the USA each year, this means that up to 1000 times per year in the United States static electricity may ignite the gasoline vapors during refueling.

One of those 1000 times per year happened last week when an woman stopped at the Apple Market off Boonsboro Road in Lynchburg to refuel her pickup truck.

Captain Skip Ritzman, with the Lynchburg Fire Department said that he would never forget what he saw when he arrived with the fire truck. "Just a total fireball, up under the vehicle, around the vehicle," said Ritzman.

The fire started when the driver went back in her car to get her cell phone. After exiting her truck she touched the gas pump, there was a shock, and then the truck quickly caught fire. The fire, caused by static electricity, melted a gas pump and burned-out the pickup truck.

Apple Market employees, Stephani Kendall and Melissa Erickson were on duty at the time of the fire and remember what happened.

"I went crazy. I saw the flames and I couldn't even speak," said Stephanie Kendall.

Erickson said, "The manager, she went out and shut off the gas pump. We have an emergency switch outside." She also said that she thought that everything was going to blow up.

Most vehicle static fires are caused by a person re-entering the vehicle during refueling to get warm or as in this case to get a cell phone. When they go back to the nozzle area they discharge their static in the vapor rich space around the refueling port and BOOM!

Static electricity is generated by the gasoline being pumped into a vehicle and you when you get out of the vehicle. If static charges are allowed to discharge in the vapor areas a fire can occur. The results are frightening and may be devastating. Static charges are dangerous.

Everyone needs to be aware of the serious dangers of static electricity, so be static smart.

Do not allow children to refuel a vehicle or container.
Do not have unsupervised children in the vehicle.
Refuel vehicles slowly until you have a least 1/4 to 1/2 tank full. Refuel all containers slowly.
Refuel containers only on the ground, not in the vehicle.
Keep the nozzle in contact with the container or vehicle at all times during refueling.
Each time you exit the vehicle or approach the fuel dispensing pump, discharge your static by touching the metal parts of the car or pump, away from the nozzle area.
Do not use the auto-latch feature of a nozzle if available. Stay there with you hand on the nozzle.
Do not get back in the vehicle during refueling.

If a fire occurs during refueling, Never pull the nozzle out

The car will not explode
Get away
Get people out of the vehicle
Get help
Tell attendant to shut down the pumps
Get a fire extinguisher
You have time, don't make it worse.

Many of those killed or hurt during refueling fires think that by pulling the nozzle out they will save themselves, their vehicle or those around them. Nothing is further from the truth. The inferno comes from the nozzle coming out of the vehicle or container and the gasoline being sprayed around the area.




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