A Pennsylvania man died last Friday in a freak fire at a gas station. Authorities say that the fire was sparked by static electricity on the man’s body, and he died of inhalation of superheated gases. While this type of fire is very rare and fatalities even rarer, they do happen. To prevent them, you should do something terribly mundane: do not ever get back in your car while fueling, and make sure to touch a metal surface before fueling.
Built-up static electricity can be discharged as a spark, igniting the gasoline. But in this case, authorities are unsure what could have ignited the fire.
State police fire marshal Eric Keebaugh, who investigated the fire, said several things could have happened to discharge the electricity and spark gasoline vapors.
After he got out of his car, Byers might have closed the door with his elbow or his shoe, which would have insulated his body and not allowed him to “ground” any electricity, Keebaugh said.
Some clothing also is more prone to lead to the buildup of static electricity, he said. Renkes said he knows of one fire that resulted after a man put on a windbreaker.
“There was a perfect alignment of the conditions to create this tragedy,” Williamson said
Here’s a disturbing statistic: 80% of static electricity/gas pump fires happen to women, who are apparently more likely to climb back in our cars to comb our hair or fix our mascara or something.
This video shows a fire that started in a similar way, but did not result in serious injuries.
Gas pump death a warning [Lancaster Online]