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Chesterfield, 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 with warnings.

Last 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 & 145.

According 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 vehicle.

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.

Douglas 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 catch fire."

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.


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