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Static Electricity Gas Fire Burns a Young Man in Texas

by Jennifer L. Hazen
Sept. 29, 2002
This fire was first reported by Heath Hixson of the Courier in Houston:

Austin Cochrum was filling up his truck, on September 9, at a local gas station when he walked over to a friend who was also filling up his truck. Mr. Cochrum placed his left hand on his friend's truck. He had his fabric covered wallet in this hand and it must have insulated him from the truck. He then touched the truck, with his right hand, about 12 inches from the gas tank. A spark jumped to the truck igniting the gasoline vapors near the fuel port. Reportedly Mr. Cochrum rubbed his wallet across the friends truck seat (also fabric) before he sparked to the truck body.

As soon as Mr. Cochrum saw the FLASH he turned to run. His left hand, arm and torso caught on fire. He received second-degree burns to his left arm, left hand and side. The fire burned through two shirts.

Mr. Cochrum was quoted by Mr. Hixson as saying: "You see a lot of movies with explosions. I was just thinking about getting out of there," Cochrum said. " I didn't really have time to think about it . I just took off."

Cochrum spent six days in a Houston burn unit for treatment. He should recover from the burns in time. He was lucky.

Mr. Hixson also quoted Cochrum as saying: "I think I was more shocked about being on fire more than anything," He stated that static electricity would be on his mind while refueling his vehicle in the future.

"I'll touch my truck before I fill up," Cochrum said. "I will definitely be aware of it now. ... It will cause me to be in less of a hurry."

The Fire Marshall's office ruled the accident was the result of static electricity, created by Cochrum, and reacting with gas vapors from the vehicle's gas tank. They theorized the reaction came after Cochrum rubbed his fabric wallet on his friend's fabric seat cover, which made the static charge, then when he touched the outside of the truck - BOOM!

While this type of fire is rare, it happens all too often. We believe it may occur as many as 500 - 1000 times per year in the USA. The reports of these fires are very local events. This is why we encourage anyone who hears of this type fire to report it to our magazine. We will publish every report we receive.




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