Static electricity may be to blame for gas station fire

Posted at 2:27 PM, Jan 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-10 14:34:58-05

POWHATAN, Va (WTVR) -- There are warning signs at most pumps telling drivers fueling up to avoid smoking and not to get back inside their vehicles while pumping.  It's a warning driver, Joyce Anderson is well aware of.

"Because of the electricity, especially that it's cold outside you don't do that," Anderson said.

It was a hard lesson learned Thursday night at the Dorset gas station in the 2300 block of Genito Road in Powhatan, when a woman pumping gas got back inside her car while refueling.  But when the woman went to remove the nozzle, static electricity is believed to have sparked a blaze resulting in her car and the gas station catching fire.

"It's rare when that happens," Tammy Gobert with AAA Mid-Atlantic said.

Fortunately the driver survived and no one else at the station was hurt.  Meanwhile Gobert recommends drivers adhere to the many warnings posted at pumps and stay outside their vehicle while pumping.

"It does make me a little nervous because it could happen to anybody, like it happened to that lady," driver Mary Stanfield said.  "It could happen at anytime to anybody."

"It's very scary," Anderson added.  "Very, very scary."

But to help ease some of the fear Gobert said there are some things you can do to stay safe at the pump.  Gobert emphasized you should never re-enter your vehicle while gassing up.  But if you decide to get inside, you should discharge any potential static by touching a metal surface "even your car door" before touching the nozzle.

AAA recommends other safety guidelines from the American Petroleum Institute that will help keep you and your family safe when refueling your vehicle:

  • Turn off your vehicle engine. Put your vehicle in park and/or set the emergency brake. Disable or turn off any auxiliary sources of ignition such as a camper or trailer heater, cooking units, or pilot lights.
  • Do not smoke, light matches or lighters while refueling at the pump or when using gasoline anywhere else.
  • Use only the refueling latch provided on the gasoline dispenser nozzle. Never jam the refueling latch on the nozzle open.
  • Do not re-enter your vehicle during refueling. If you cannot avoid re-entering your vehicle, discharge any static build-up BEFORE reaching for the nozzle by touching something metal with a bare hand -- such as the vehicle door -- away from the nozzle.)
  • In the unlikely event a static-caused fire occurs when refueling, leave the nozzle in the fill pipe and back away from the vehicle. Notify the station attendant immediately.