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San Francisco Channel 7 ABC Station Runs Auto Refueling Fire Story

The following is the text from a July 15th ABC Channel 7 News Story in San Francisco

Click her for link to news story

Danger At The Pump?

July 15 There's been a surge in flash fires at service stations across the country very dangerous and very preventable. What's even more startling is that women are most often the victims of these gas pump fires.

You'll start seeing new warning signs during the coming months about an increase in fires at service stations. But you should know right now once you've started pumping gas, do not get back inside your car. Here's why.

The gas pump fires strike without warning and sometimes with deadly force. Watch the upper left-hand corner of this surveillance tape.

A woman burned to death in a fire in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Gas Clerk: "We need 911, there's a fire outside, the pumps are exploding!"

A gas pump fire near Las Vegas badly injured a nine year-old girl and another woman had the surprise of her life at a San Francisco gas station just a few weeks ago.

Michelle Blanch: "I see a spark travel into the entrance of the gas tank and all of a sudden I see like a burst of flames, like a basketball-sized burst of flames."

These three gas pump fires, and perhaps a thousand more across the country each year, are being blamed on static electricity the same thing that shocks you when you walk across the carpet and touch a door knob.

In 78 percent of the static fire cases tracked by the Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEIT), women are the victims. That's because they are more likely than men to starting pumping gas and then go back inside the car.

Bob Renkes, PEIT: "Women seem to be more prone to get back in their car to stay warm, to return a credit card to the purse, to get money, maybe to be caregiver to children inside."

As they slide across the seat, they generate static electricity and they may carry that charge back to the nozzle.

Stephen Fowler: "When they touch that area of nozzle, they have a static discharge that can be thousands of volts. It would not be uncommon for that to be thirty, forty, fifty thousand volts."

The spark may ignite the cloud of gas vapor that forms around the nozzle. In a case from Tucson in March, you can see the victim running from his burning car. No precise records are kept about how often this happens, but the experts believe static electricity may be responsible for as many as 1,000 fires at gas pumps each year.

Americans fill their tanks safely more than 15 billion times a year. So your chance of becoming the victim of a static fire is very small, and there are some simple ways to totally eliminate your risk.

Do not get back in your car after you've begun pumping gas. But if you do, make sure you get rid of any static charge before you touch the nozzle again.

You should touch your car before touching the nozzle. That will discharge any static electricity you've built up in your body.
Dennis DeCota heads one of California's leading service station trade groups. He is urging owners to install new warning signs and he's calling for a new ordinance to prohibit people from getting back inside their cars while refueling. DeCota says it just makes sense.

Dennis DeCota: "But what's one life worth? You know if we can prevent it by education of the consumer on proper fueling techniques I think we've done a great service to the public."

Michelle Blanch doesn't need another warning after her close call at the station in San Francisco.

Michelle Blanch: "I'm very, very cautious. I never leave the pump anymore to go inside the car. I just stand out there and I won't even let go of the handle of the pump anymore just so it's continuous, one continuous process."

And that's a good idea.

The I-Team has obtained a very telling e-mail about static fires from Chevron's refinery in Richmond. An analyst tells employees to warn their family and friends, quote "Especially those who have kids in the car with them while pumping gas. If this were to happen to them, they may not be able to get the children out in time."

Perhaps it's time that Chevron and the other oil companies put out such a strong warning to all their customers

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