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    Static Electricity Blamed in Fire

    Quick-thinking clerk shuts down pumps as customer's coat burned.

    MANHATTAN, Kan. -- A quick-thinking employee at a Peerless Tyre convenience store in Manhattan, Kan. is being called a hero today after she averted disaster by shutting down the station's gas pumps after a patron caught fire while filling his tank.

    Station manager Paul Herrera said an unidentified male customer was pumping gas shortly late last week when a spark of static electricity ignited a flash fire. The man's coat and hand were burned, Herrera said, but he did not require further treatment, according to The The Manhattan Mercury.

    Herrera said cashier Sherri Shaw immediately turned off all the gas pumps when she saw the man catch fire. She then called 911. Shaw got the station's fire extinguisher and ran out to extinguish the customer and the now-burning gas pump.

    "Clerks get trained to do that, but she did it spontaneously," Herrera said. "It's good to know the training works."

    Manhattan fire chief Jerry Snyder said 150-200 cases of such fires are reported in the United States each year. Snyder said the fire victim had begun to pump gas, then got back in his vehicle to adjust his radio. The simple act of sliding across the car seat built up enough static electricity to cause a spark that ignited dripping gasoline when the man pulled the pump nozzle from his car. "Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt," Snyder said.

    Snyder warned motorists to take precautions when gassing up in cold, dry weather, such as "not getting back in your car when fueling," he said. But if you have to, touch something metal away from the gas tank when you get back out to discharge the electricity you've built up.

    Herrera said patrons should not smoke or use their cell phones when pumping gas, and should always turn the key completely off when they pull up to the pump. He said the fire's heat cracked the station's window and slightly burned the pump, but that was the extent of the damage. Herrera said new glass will cost him about $200, but that's OK. "It could have been a lot worse," he said.

    The unidentified man drove away before firefighters arrived.

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