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Authorities warn of static electricity at gas pumps

Updated:

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Static electricity has sparked three fires, one of them deadly, at Oklahoma gas pumps in the last five years, authorities said.

At least three similar incidents have been reported nationwide in the last few weeks.

The most recent Oklahoma static electricity pump fire severely burned a Bristow woman in February. Lydia Cloud, 45, was filling up her pickup truck at a convenience store when a fire started.

Another woman, Debbie Ratliff, was slightly injured in a Christmas Eve 1999 gas pump fire because she got back in her car while the gas was pumping. She was in a hurry to get to work when she stopped to get gas at a convenience store.

``When I went to pull the nozzle out of the tank, fire shot up at me,'' she said.

``I don't know what kept me from catching fire. God must have been watching over me. The fire shoots right up at you.''

The flames were six inches higher than the top of her van, she said.

Firefighters quickly determined the cause was static electricity.

``I'd never heard of such a thing,'' Ratliff said.

Bob Renkes of Tulsa-based Petroleum Equipment Institute said static electricity is a serious problem at gas pumps.

``It's the spark that occurs when they touch the nozzle that ignites the fumes coming out of the tank,'' he said.

The phenomenon happens mostly in cold weather, Renkes said.

Renkes said people should not get back in their vehicle while fueling. If they do, they should touch the door or the car before touching the nozzle. That way the static is discharged before reaching the fuel vapors, he said.

``You are never prepared for this,'' Renkes said. ``The chance of it happening to you is slim, but it's a risk people need to be aware of.''
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