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Fact check: Using mobile phones at petrol stations can cause an explosion

2 Mins read

Sometimes ago, a man was driving from work, and decided to buy petrol before going to pick his family. He parked by the fuel pump, opened the fuel tank, and told the attendant how much fuel he wanted.

While fuel was being dispensed, his phone rang. He went into his car, picked his phone, went back out, and answered the phone.

Then boom! Fire started. 🔥

What could have started the fire? Could it have been the phone call he took?

If you are not a robot or a computer program, chances are you have patronized a petrol station before – either to fill your car tank, or buy in a keg.

When you walk into any petrol station, you will see signs telling you not to use your phone while petrol is being dispensed. You’d also see signs that tells motorists to switch off engines while refueling.

Are mobile phones actually capable of causing fires at petrol stations?

I bet you’re here to find out. So, let’s get into it.

Obviously, there has been fire incidences at filling stations, especially while fuel is being dispensed. However, according to experts, there is no evidence that proves that mobile phones have anything to do with those fires.

Does this mean you should use your phone at a fuel station?

Absolutely not!

And, here’s why:

Mobile phones work by sending electromagnetic waves to the nearest cell tower, and back, at the speed of light. It is believed that the particular spectrum which mobile phones transmit on, does not generate enough heat to start a fire.

Read also: Does leaving your phone plugged all night damage your battery?

However, a cell phone can still cause fire due to other situations, like a damaged battery or an internal electrical system mishap.

Since mobile phone batteries have electrical charges, a damaged battery could cause enough sparks to start a fire.

We have seen situations, in the past, where mobile devices exploded in people’s pockets. Good thing those didn’t happen at a gas station, a lot would have had a long talk with their insurance company.

Back to the opening story, what could have caused the fire?

According to the Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI), electrical discharge is the major cause of fire at petrol stations. Experts believe that something as simple as getting back into the vehicle is enough to create static electricity, and static electricity can cause a spark.

What is static electricity?

You know those times you walk around the house, and feel a little bit of electric shock from picking up a metal spoon or resting on a concrete wall?

Or those times you try to pull the duvet over yourself during harmattan and feel a little shock?

Those are the handiwork of static electricity, and they have been the prime suspect at many gas station fire incidences.

When petrol is dispensing, vapours escape from the nozzle into the immediate surrounding. This vapour is enough to draw naked sparks and static electricity. Those sparks could happen from opening and closing door, or even from the car battery.

How can you be safe at filling stations?

While it is unlikely that your mobile phone will cause a fire at a petrol station, can keep safe by doing the following:

  1. Keep your mobile phones away.
  2. Switch off your engine.
  3. Do not enter the vehicle while refueling
  4. Do not smoke near a petrol station.
  5. Follow all safety protocols at filling stations.
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When I'm not reading about tech, I'm writing about it, or thinking about the next weird food combinations to try. I do all these with my headphones plugged in, and a sticky note on my computer with the words: "The galaxy needs saving, Star Lord."
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