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Static Sparks Car Fire

By Jan Katz Ackerman
Hays Daily News
Submitted by KSFFA Webmaster

HOXIE,KANSAS Jan, 29, 2002- Static electricity is being blamed for a fire that engulfed a man's clothes, his pickup, a gas pump and a nearby light pole Sunday.

Todd Best, was pumping gasoline into his 1996 Chevrolet pickup at Zimmerman Repair when he reached down to slow the gas flow into the vehicle, and a spark of static electricity ignited the fumes coming from the fill spout of the truck.

"It happened so fast I didn't realize what was happening. It went off like a barbecue, you know that 'whoof' sound, then pop, it went off. The next thing I knew I was in a ball of fire. I reached down and brushed out the fire on my pants and that's when I realized my coat was on fire. Today, I have some bruises I didn't know I had. I must have hit the door when I took off running," Best said.

The force of the explosion shut off the nozzle, and as Best was running away he flagged down the driver of a vehicle who took him back into Hoxie to get help.

Zimmerman Repair, owned by Elmer Zimmerman, is located just south of Hoxie on U.S. Highway 24.

Zimmerman said he was returning from Selden in his bulk gas truck when he came upon the fire.

"I was half way down Main Street when I saw the smoke and when I got to the elevator I could see the flames. Todd was already headed to town and it didn't take long for the fire department to get here," Zimmerman said.

The elevators Zimmerman was speaking about are approximately 1,000 feet north of the repair shop.

While Best was not injured in the explosion, his vehicle is considered a total loss.

"There's nothing left of the truck but the rear bumper and right rear tire," Zimmerman said.

Best said he is beginning to learn from his insurance companies homeowner's and vehicle which items are covered and which are not. He said his homeowners insurance is expected to cover various items that were in the pickup, such as personal items like his gun. However, he's been told that items attached to the pickup, such as a citizens band radio and cell phone, are not going to be covered by the homeowner's policy.

"The stuff you actually do need to replace they won't," he said.

Best was expected to visit with an adjuster for his vehicle insurance to determine which items will be covered on Tuesday.

While the incident may be considered a freak accident, Zimmerman said fires ignited this way occur more often than one might expect. He said about two years ago a similar incident happened at a Colby gas station, and he said he continually receives newsletters from petroleum suppliers warning about such dangers.

Twelve firefighters from Sheridan County Rural Fire District respond to the fire. Assistant Fire Chief Ed Conard said that while the damage to the truck and gas station was extensive, the firefighters were thankful that Best was not injured.

He said he is surprised that more static electricity related fires have not occurred due to the unseasonably warm and dry weather conditions.

"Right now with the relative humidity as low as it is the fire danger is very, very high. The slightest spark of static electricity can ignite gas fumes, and recently I read that if conditions are right, a spark can spontaneously ignite something as far away as 30 feet," Conard said.

Zimmerman said no dollar value has been determined regarding the damage to his station, and he expected insurance adjusters to arrive today. He said he expects his station to be out of service anywhere from one to two weeks while repairs are being made.

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