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Dec 05 '00

Fill Up Danger at BJ's

This is a short but interesting tale about an unusual vehicle danger. I've never heard of this happening before, but it happened to me so it could happen to anyone.

Yesterday I went to fill up my gas tank at BJ's. I drove up to the pump, flipped the gas cap cover and got out of the car.

I was looking around at the other cars in the station as I unscrewed the gas cap, so I didn't see the familiar spark of static electricity jump from my hand to the chassis of the car. But I did feel it. What followed was something a little unfamiliar, my arm was suddenly warm and a heard a whooshing sound.

As I looked down, I saw flames shoot out at me from the gas tank and jump up my arm, singeing the wool coat I was wearing and the sweater I was wearing underneath. I was a human hibachi. If I understand correctly, this is how the Hindenburg went.

I quickly beat out the fire on my arm and then had to decide whether to run or try to put out my car which was burning like a BBQ grill set to "11." I decided to try putting out the car and then to go to plan "B" (run like heck) if the flames didn't immediately succumb.

Luckily, beating at the flames vigorously with my hat (like a madman) stopped the blaze in its tracks. Those Aussies sure know how to make hats; mine was none the worse for wear afterwards. It's probably a good thing I wasn't wearing my oilskin coat, though.

A little shaken, I looked around to see the reaction of the other BJ's patrons. To my surprise, none of them had noticed either the flames or my fire-fighting activities. I felt like putting my arm in the air and shouting "Hey anybody, raise your hand if you were just on fire."

The morals of this story:
1) Gasoline vapors are highly flammable.
2) Ground yourself before touching your gas cap. Usually this can be accomplished by simply touching the metal door on your way out. In my case, having gotten zapped many times in the last few dry weeks, I happened to touch the glass window instead. Since glass does not conduct electricity well, I was still holding the charge.

Except for losing a few hairs on my fingers, I am unharmed.

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