Expert said fire may have been sparked by static electrtcity
Terry Taylor, East Fork Fire District fire captain and inspector, said it is likely that a static electricity spark was the ignition of Friday’s blaze.
“It wasn’t a friction-based spark, but strictly static electricity,” he said. “We had a similar situation with a jet ski operator at Zephyr Cove 10 months ago. A guy did the same thing, although the circumstances were different because it was warmer, so the vapor aerated more than Friday. and went up in a big ‘Woof!’ and a flash.”
Taylor said the plastic liner of a pickup bed prevents containers sitting in it from being grounded. When Fowler was filling his containers, the cold air made the gas fumes sink into the truck bed.
“What happens is, as you’re filling up these containers, the vapors can fill up the bed of the pickup and the traveling of the fuel through the hose and the nozzle can give it a static charge,” he said. “The plastic bedliner insulates the truck from the grounding mechanism of the pump. It builds up a charge and you can get the spark and a fire can result.”
Taylor said Friday’s fire occurred during almost prime conditions for such a phenomenon. Research by gasoline companies including Chevron, Union 76 and Costco found that problems like this occur more often in dry climates.
“Static electric thrives in dry, windy, cold areas, and they’ve had more fires in Arizona, Utah and some parts of California,” he said, adding that although Nevada is not among those states, the Carson Valley does have dry, windy conditions most of the time.
n How to be safe. Taylor said the best way to fill up gasoline containers is to remove them from the truck, set them on the ground, where they will thus be grounded, and then fill them up.
“Wipe any spills off and make sure there are no leaks before you put them back into the truck,” he said. “Also, make sure your containers are intact and that they don’t have any holes or leaks.”
Though Fowler was not smoking at the time of Friday’s fire, Taylor said it is surprising how many people need to be reminded not to smoke at the pump.
“One gallon of gasoline in vapor form has the explosive force of one-half a stick of dynamite – that’s powerful,” he said, “Why not be safe?”
n Rubber liners aren’t an improvement over plastic. “They both have the same effect of preventing grounding. If the bed had been all metal, there wouldn’t have been a spark, because the tank would have been grounded to the earth and the pump was also grounded to the earth,” he said.
Though metal jerry cans which fasten to the outside of a sport vehicle such as a jeep, can be safe, Taylor recommends plastic containers for gasoline because they do not rust and keep their integrity if dropped.
n Safety recommendations. Chevron USA, Inc., further recommends:
n Using approved containers.
n Never use a latch-open device to fill a portable container.
n Keep the nozzle in contact with the can while filling.
n Do not fill any container inside any vehicle, including sport utility vehicles, vans, cars, etc.