The belief that cell phones will start a fire at the pump is only a myth, but static electricity can spark a fire during fueling, as some may have seen on YouTube.
Static electricity flash fires at the pump are extremely rare and preventable, according to the American Petroleum Institute and Petroleum Equipment Institute. They are more likely to occur in cool, dry conditions, especially in fall and winter.
“Static electricity — the same thing that shocks you after you drag your feet on the carpet — can ignite gasoline vapors at the pump,” says the Petroleum Equipment Institute. The same is possible at diesel pumps, though diesel is a less volatile fuel than gasoline.
The main way to avoid it is to stay outside the vehicle while fueling, industry experts say. If you must re-enter your vehicle during fueling, don’t touch the nozzle again until you have touched a metal part of the vehicle away from the nozzle. This will discharge any static that may have built up.
If a fire does start while you’re pumping, leave the nozzle in the fill pipe, which will help prevent the fire from getting worse. Back away from the pump and tell the attendant to shut off dispensing devices and pumps. If no attendant is available, use the pump’s emergency shutdown button to shut it off and use the emergency intercom to summon help.
For more information, visit the Petroleum Equipment Institute’s “Stop Static” page.