Gas station fire ruled accidental


The truck fire Wednesday at a gas station southeast of Punta Gorda was an accident, investigators said Thursday.

Although the official State Fire Marshal's report won't be available for 30 days, Capt. Ray Briggs, public information officer for the Punta Gorda Fire Department, said the blaze originated in the engine compartment of a 1988 Ford F-150 truck, which was parked next to the gas pumps.

Briggs attributed the fire to a "mechanical failure," adding the truck was so badly damaged the exact cause may never be known.

The vehicle was not being fueled when the fire started.

"Stuff like that happens quite a lot," said Dave Lepper, the state's fire investigator assigned to the case.

The truck's owner, Rotonda resident Bernard Crist, was inside the Quick Mart Convenience store, 26520 Jones Loop Road, around 1:35 p.m. purchasing beverages when someone alerted him to the truck fire. He was unable to open the hood to extinguish it, and within seconds, flames were scorching the pumps and roiling off the canopy above.

Briggs praised the quick-thinking of store manager Tanya J. Musser and her employees, which averted an even greater catastrophe.

"I was just a little unnerved," Musser said Thursday. "It was very scary, even though everything seemed to be under control."

"They really did an excellent job in shutting down the pumps and evacuating the store," Briggs said. "The potential was there for something much worse."

No one was hurt in the fire.

The store was open for business Thursday, but the pumps were closed. The truck, valued at $2,000, was a total loss. Briggs estimated the loss to the structure at about $100,000.

The station's owner, Fort Myers resident Ray Rasheed, could not be reached for comment Thursday.


Gas pump dos and don'ts

Although Wednesday's fire at the Jones Loop Road Citgo station apparently didn't involve refueling, most gas station fires do. Static electricity, created by driving or friction, is the most common culprit. It can create a hot spark, which can ignite gasoline vapors coming from a tank or fueling hose.

Static is most common in cold, dry climates, but don't rule it out here in Florida.

Signs posted on most gas pumps warn against certain risky behaviors that can create sparks, but have you read them lately?

Several Internet Web sites explain the problems and give some safety suggestions:

* Stay outside your car while pumping gas. A static buildup can be caused by re-entering the vehicle during fueling.

* If you must re-enter your car, touch a metal part away from the fuel fill pipe with a bare hand to discharge the static.

* Turn off your engine when refueling, put your car in park and/or set the emergency brake.

* Never smoke, light matches or lighters while refueling.

* Never fill a gas can while it's in the vehicle. Place it on the ground first.

* Turn off cell phones or other electronic devices before pumping.

* If a fire does occur, don't try to yank the gas hose out of the car. It may spray burning gasoline on you.

You can e-mail Malcolm Brenner at mbrenner@sun-herald.com


By MALCOLM BRENNER

Staff Writer