'Extremely intense': Crews smother car fire at County Office Building

news-vehiclefire8This is the former Lane High School.
PHOTO BY CHARLES WERNER

Charlottesville firefighters used water and then foam to knock down what the Fire Chief calls an "extremely intense" Thursday morning car fire by the fuel pumps at the Albemarle County Office Building. "The fire involved gasoline, and the exact cause and circumstances are being investigated," says Chief Charles L. Werner, who sent around photographs of the situation.

–->SLIDE SHOW!

2:48pm update: Although online commenters were wondering whether static electricity–- a common cause of wintertime sparks–- might have ignited the blaze, the City Fire Marshal has listed the probable cause as heat from the catalytic converter.

This info comes from Chief Werner who explains that the investigation revealed that the gasoline nozzle failed to automatically shut off and that fuel then spilled onto the ground and under the vehicle. That's when heat from the car's catalytic converter–- a pollution-control device typically operating above 300 degrees F–- ignited the gasoline or its fumes.

"It was not static electricity in this case," Werner says in an email.

Read more on: charles wernerfire

33 comments

The badge bunny date probably went awry when the bunny realized the badge was plastic.

Everything's cool! Except the car of course! :)

As your children become our newest drivers out here, please preach to them the importance of looking both ways before proceeding on a green light too please. Just because their light has turned green does not mean other people are stopping like they are suppose to.

Diane, I think the fire chief or his investigator is wrong in this case. Combined with the fact that if the vehicle was being properly fueled in the first place by a person paying attention, gas would never have made it under the car. At least not enough gas to make it to the front near the catalytic converter.

Properly fueling a car means standing outside of the car next to the gas nozzle and being prepared in the case of a malfunction or emergency. If the automatic cutoff didn't work, it should have been noticed immediately without gallons of gas pouring out onto the concrete.

Some people are so careless and absent minded while fueling vehicles that state governments will not allow anybody to fuel a car except a gas station employee. New Jersey feels that because of the fire hazards directly associated with dispensing fuel, only station attendants could pump fuel. A violation carries a $500 fine. Oregon has the same law.

Gasbag....I think the Fire Chief should know what he's talking about. Who are you? Are you a fire expert? "Gasbag" suits you.

Diane,

One need not be a fire chief to figure out common laws of physics. This is really only high school level stuff. For instance, The Auto-Ignition Temperature - or the minimum temperature required to ignite a gas or vapor in air without a spark or flame being present - are easily found by searching Google. It so happens for gasoline it is 536 degrees on the fahrenheit scale. That is about 236 degrees hotter than the catalytic converter of only a cool 300 degrees. I would suspect that other factors play in considering the catalytic converter is above the ground, heat rises and the actual temperature hitting the ground must be less than the articles aforementioned 300 degrees. Assuming an official knows what they are talking about is a major downfall in society. Do some research and don't believe everything an official states as fact. Clearly the officially stated facts here do not ignite a coherent explanation of the event. And remember: Google is your friend.

Gasbag = 1
Fire Chief = 0

As Gas Bag pointed out, this could only happen from a spark.

"And remember: Google is your friend."

And your teacher.
And your mentor.
And your lover.
And your locater.
And your gossip source.
And your political advisor.
And, in a few more years, your minder.
Orwell missed the boat. Big Brother is coming in from left field. Anyone can know more about you in 0.028 seconds that your lawyer found out in 28 years.

"... the car was not being fueled properly"

How the car was being fueled has not been revealed in published reports. Undoubtedly this is a fact that is very important to the fire chief's investigation. I'm sure that the fire chief is well aware of how the car was being fueled. No one was injured, according to published reports, so the driver should be able to speak to how he/she was fueling the car.

You're not ever going to see a city, county, state or federal spokesperson voluntarily admit that something was done improperly. Kinda reminds me of the Norfolk police recruit that recently died in training. The initial cop shoppe press release stated he died as the result of an accidental collision. OK. But upon further questioning by the media and family members, we now find out the death was a direct result of an instructor striking the recruit with his fist. I will never understand why government agencies can't just tell the truth from the very beginning.

re: "the importance of looking both ways before proceeding on a green light too please. Just because their light has turned green does not mean other people are stopping like they are suppose to."

Try that when you're pulling out onto 29s from 607 (Sheetz). All you can see to your left is the humongous bush that the homeowners at that corner maintain. I've almost been creamed twice there by red light runners.

This one is easy to figure out. Static electricity. Happens often on cold mornings. Always touch metal to ground yourself before reaching for the gas nozzle again once you have inserted it in the tank or after you have finished filling up!

Here's a good link to read. Seems it happens to women a lot more than men, because women tend to get in and out of the car while filling up, thus causing static electricity to build up.

http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/blgas-static-fires2.htm

And, here's an actual video that shows a girl doing all the right things to start a gas pump fire...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuZxFL9cGkI

Glad no one was in the car. This woman wasn't so lucky

Ashley Turton, former Hill aide, dead in burning car

"The wife of a key White House aide was found dead early Monday in a sport-utility vehicle that was heavily damaged by fire in the garage of the couple's Capitol Hill home, sources familiar with the incident said. The cause of her death is uncertain."

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/crime-scene/paul-duggan/-the-wife-of-a....

According to an informed source who posted on Channel 19, there were people in the car. Two students and a Driver Education teacher. This source says the automatic cutoff failed to work once the tank was full, fuel ran out onto the ground, and the heat under the car caused the fuel to ignite.

I still suspect static electricity. If anybody was standing close to the gas nozzle and paying attention, they could cut it off very quickly before much fuel overflowed. Did the teacher sit back down in the car and then jump out and grab the gas nozzle when the automatic cutoff didn't work? :)

"I still suspect static electricity."

People were there and suspect otherwise. Only a fool would maintain a belief, based on nothing but conjecture, in the face of contrary evidence.

Were is the location of this event. Was it at the county office buildings on McIntyre? Seems the pumps there are out of the publics view, not as close to newspaper vending machines as in this picture.

Mr/Mrs/Miss OK, it's behind where the Albemarle cop shoppe used to be, where all the cop shoppe cars used to park. You can't really see the gas pumps very well from McIntyre Road. The gas pumps are very close to the structure, maybe about 15 to 20 feet from the brick wall.

Mr/Mrs/Miss meanwhile, I hope you aren't expecting any type of argument or debate about my being a fool. :)

I see it every day... people pull up to a gas pump. They jump out, put the nozzle into the tank, and get back into their running car to keep warm. In and out of the car builds up static electricity and all it takes is a static spark to ignite the fuel fumes when they grab the gas nozzle to remove it after fillup. The vast majority who actually do not set fire to their own cars do not realize how fortunate they really are.

At night or low light situations you can see the sparks fly from static! Gasbag may actually have something here! Wow, never thought Id say that.

I learned the hard way. I was running late on the way to pick up a girlfriend and go to a New Year's Eve party one night, on a very very cold night. It was about 8 to 10 degrees. I had a sweater and heavy long length wool top coat on. After I put the nozzle in to fuel my vehicle, I stood aside and combed my hair since it was now dry from the shower I had rushed through. Put the comb back in my pocket when the nozzle flipped off and the largest spark I have ever seen shot from my fingertips to the nozzle once I was almost touching it. You could see the bright white/blue spark from my fingertips to the gas nozzle. From that day on it has been my habit to touch metal and ground myself before making contact with the gas nozzle again once the tank is full. :)

I guess those gas pumps have safety devices that keep fire from traveling up the hose and into the pump and eventually into the underground tank ?

Even with that it seems very fortunate that things didn't get way out of hand. I mean that car must have been parked close to the pump or do they have extra long hoses on them?

I am glad the situation didn't get any worse than it did.

How did the date go?

Went very well.

The only bad date I ever had was with a badge bunny.

It can happen from more than a spark. They might have been using "splifs" or even a "blunt" at the time of ignition. I know someone who drove right into a pump at 900 am after drinking a pint of Vodka. Set the whole place on fire.

Gasbag, let's just say that you are speaking from a position of ignorance about what actually happened and the fire chief is speaking from a position of knowledge about what actually happened.

Yes, if your theoretical conjecture about what actually happened were true, then your theory could be valid.

Facts are stubborn things. Just because some random guy who posts comments on the internet has a theory about what happened, that theory is only a theory.

The bottom line is that the truth does not comport with your speculation or theory. I tried to hint at that earlier.

A wise man would learn the facts before spouting off. A fool is not so cautious.

Which one are you?

Well, obviously, I am the fool for trying to discount the word of the fire chief or his investigator. And you will get no argument about this fact. I thought we discussed this earlier in this thread! :)

But, the fire chief's opinion of what actually happened is nothing but a theory as well. Unless he has video of the undercarriage of the vehicle and fire erupting under the catalytic converter.

There's two theories here now, 1) static electricity, or 2) catalytic converter igniting fuel that had run under the car. If we accept the fire chief's theory, this means the car was not being fueled properly. Thank you.

Dear Gasbag,

So I read your comments and you are quite the expert. However, your reference to catalytic converters is incorrect on operating temps. A properly operating cc works at temps between 1200 to 1400 deg F. The ignition temp of gasoline is under 500 deg F. The fire marshal is the one who determines cause and he is trained for that purpose; are you? Were you there? I would suggest that both answers would be no and your nickname has been chosen appropriately...gasbag. Nuff said.

I see that discussions (like this) are continually initiated with no facts and all inuendo. The lack of accountability is the dark side of the internet and blogs. Any person who writes criticism and/or non factual information can do so with no accountability and can do so with malice and an intent to incite others. And as Hmmmm said and quite factually, it dispels your seemingly little knowledge on the topic.

Mr/Mrs/Miss Hmmmmm, I have made no reference to catalytic converter temperatures anywhere in this thread.

Just like I said above though, if there was enough spilled gas to make it to the front of the car where the catalytic converter is located, the car was not being fueled properly. An alert person paying attention to what he/she is doing would immediately see that the automatic shutoff has malfuntioned. They would grab the gas nozzle and manually turn it off very quickly.

Some of you guys and girls are debating this thing in a backwards sort of way, IMHO. Maybe it's just to argue rather than debate? A press release stating that a theory of spilled fuel caused this blaze is much worse than saying static electricity caused it. People can certainly sympathize with static electricty, but they have a much harder time understanding inattention and enough spilled fuel to actually roll from one end of the car to the other. :)

Mr/Mrs/Miss No accountability, totally false. Trust me, there is accountability on the Internet. I received judgements for lible against 2 people when they posted false tales about me on the Internet not long ago.

But, anyhow, I pose this question to you, anybody else who knows, the fire chief or any person designated to speak on the fire chief's behalf....

Where was the driver of this car when the automatic fuel cutoff malfunctioned and enough gas was spilled to make it to the front of the car where the catalytic converter is located. :)

Wow! That's one hot car!

Yeah! Just be thankful no students ended up trapped in that hot car! The school system shouldn't allow student passengers to be in Driver's Edcuation cars while they are being fueled! Fueling a vehicle is one of the most dangerous things people do on a daily basis. And yet most people take it and the dangers involved for granted.

Some good did come out of this thread though. Her being a somewhat new driver, I had a sit down with my daughter and explained the dangers of static electricity while fueling her vehicles. This is something I had never thought about doing before this thread. My bad at parenting! :)

You are very correct, GB. Had anyone been injured in that vehicle, I would have never uttered such an egregious pun. I personally have two children, who currently have learners permits and are currently taking "Behind the Wheel " training at AlbCo schools.. I have shared your advice with them, regarding grounding to prevent static electricity. I didn't mean to offend, only to elicit a collective groan for a truly bad pun. Bad Punster, better Parent