Static electricity sparks car fire; woman uninjured

December 14, 2002

By:Jason Kristufek

An Ames woman escaped injury Friday afternoon when her minivan caught fire while she was fueling it at a convenience store.

Ames fire officials say static electricity is to blame.
They also say Dianne Huffman is lucky to be alive. But she also represents a lesson to be learned.
"This could have been a lot worse," Ames Fire Department Capt. Tom Hilts said. "When we got here it only took two or three minutes to get it under control."
Officials say Huffman pulled into the Almost Always Open convenience store at the corner of Lincoln Way and Clark Avenue. She began to fuel her car, then got back inside.
"She made the decision that she didn't want to fill it up all the way so she got back out," Hilts said. "Once she touched the pump a spark ignited the gas fumes coming out."
Huffman escaped injury. The store clerk inside the convenience store flipped an emergency switch that shut down all gas pumps at the station once the blaze ignited.
The navy-colored minivan caught fire and is now destroyed. All that is left of the front seats are metal frames. The cushions were charred.
A blue Jeep Liberty that had pulled up to the next pump over had its back end charred and damaged from the blaze, but officials expected the vehicle could be repaired.
"For women especially - because they wear more nylon products - static electricity can be a problem," Hilts said. "When she got back into her vehicle and slid across the seat she created the static electricity and the first thing she touched was the gas pump."
As a precaution when fueling, Hilts said motorists should first touch something other than the gas pump. Another idea is to shut the pump off before taking the handle out of a vehicle.
"This happens," Hilts said. "Especially when there is cold, dry weather. You should always remember to ground yourself. Touch anything else but the gas pump."
The fire forced the closure of Lincoln Way between Clark and Kellogg avenues for a short period of time.
Fire officials said the main reason for shutting down Lincoln Way was to get access to water hydrants on the opposite site of the street.


©Ames Tribune 2002