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Hi there…bear with me while I burn
Published:  01 June, 2005

In the last issue I asked if anyone had ever witnessed a mobile phone blowing up on a forecourt (because the government has pronounced them safe). This prompted a call from John Dalton, manager at Watling Tyre Service, Southbank Garage in Margate, Kent.

He has a friend in the United States who says she was right there when it happened. He has forwarded her email which unofficially promotes the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Petroleum Equipment Institute’s (PEI) campaign to try to make people aware of fires as a result of static electricity at gas pumps. The email says the PEI has researched 150 cases of these fires, with surprising results. Almost all the people ‘on fire’ were women. Apparently, fires resulted when the driver got back in the vehicle (probably to make a phone call) while the nozzle was still pumping gas. When they went back to pull out the nozzle, static electricity sparked a fire (radio frequency energy transmitted from cell phones can easily spark energy on bare metal, much like aluminium foil in a microwave oven).

Apparently, blokes don’t bother getting back in their cars, which is why it’s almost always women who feature. Also, most were wearing rubber-soled shoes which insulate the wearer and make it more difficult to discharge static to the ground.

Mention of the website www.pei.org had me clicking on, and there it was. It began by asking if anyone had received an email warning about fires at gas pumps, went on to say that cell phones do not cause these fires and, although the PEI did not send the email, it clearly says it was not a hoax.

The website also has a mini movie which shows a woman getting out of her car, starting to fill it up with petrol, getting back into her car for a bit, then out again, then touching the nozzle and then beating a rapid retreat from her vehicle as it bursts into flames. I don’t know if it was staged or if it was the real thing but it was interesting. Have a look for yourself.