Static Fires at Retail Petrol Stations: An Examination of the Myths and Facts About Fires Caused by Static Electricity and Exploding Mobile Phones

Can static electricity ignite a fire at a retail petrol station? According to media reports, there have been a number of incidents in Australia and overseas where static electricity has started a fire while the motorist was refuelling their vehicle. Although the reports have raised concern among the public about the possibility for static-ignited fires to occur, they have also led to considerable speculation about the potential for mobile phones to explode. The purpose of this paper is to examine the risks associated with static ignited fires at petrol stations. Specifically, the paper: (1) explores the myths and facts about exploding mobile phones and static ignited fires during refuelling; (2) examines the findings of studies on static-related fires; (3) describes the hazards of container fires; (4) explores the physical science of static electricity; and (5) provides an overview of the chemistry of petrol combustion. In recognition of the potential for fires to ignite at petrol stations due to static electricity, the report provides a number of safety tips for motorists. These include safety tips to minimise the build up of static charge and strategies to control the effects of static discharge. To minimise the build up of static charge and to control the effects of static discharge:(1) Switch off your engine - Turn your vehicle engine off and disable any other auxiliary sources of ignition (e.g. camper or trailer heater, pilot lights, cooking units) to avoid the generation of sparks. (2) Do not smoke - Do not smoke, light matches or lighters while refuelling at the pump or in the vicinity of the pump. (3) Do not get in and out of your car - Stay outside the vehicle while refuelling. This will reduce the potential for any build-up of static electricity to be discharged at the nozzle. (4) Discharge static build-up - If you need to re-enter your vehicle during refuelling, discharge any static build-up before reaching the nozzle. Static can be discharged by touching metal, such as the vehicle door, with a bare hand. (5) Do not jam the refuelling trigger - Do not use any object to jam the refuelling trigger on the nozzle in order to keep it open. (6) If a static fire occurs… If a static-ignited fire occurs when refuelling, leave the nozzle in the fill pipe of the vehicle and step away from the vehicle. Notify the station attendant immediately.

  • Availability:
  • Corporate Authors:

    Australian Transport Safety Bureau

    PO Box 967
    Civic Square ACT 2608,   Australia 
  • Publication Date: 2005-6


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Web
  • Edition: Research Paper
  • Features: Figures; Photos; Tables;
  • Pagination: 20p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01002087
  • Record Type: Publication
  • ISBN: 1 921092 08 4
  • Report/Paper Numbers: B2005/0028
  • Files: TRIS, ATRI
  • Created Date: Jul 11 2005 1:15PM