Gasoline isn’t a household cleaner. It’s an engine fuel that becomes explosive when it changes from liquid to gas form. I’m always reminded of this when I read articles about people getting hurt while using gasoline to clean tools and machinery, kill spiders in the crawlspace or remove stains from clothing. Likewise, using it as a grill starter or squirting gasoline into a campfire is a dangerous thing, often followed up by a 911 call.
Even people who only use gasoline only to power the car, lawnmower and other combustion engines make bad decisions. Check youtube.com. The most extreme case was the guy in Clarkesville who, in November 2013, flicked a cigarette lighter at the gas tank filler neck of a pickup truck while his wife Jessica was holding the nozzle. During fueling, liquid gasoline flows into the tank. An equal amount of air, loaded with fuel vapor, is pushed back out of the opening (which is why California pumps have those weird-looking harmonica seals on the nozzles to recapture it). Touch a flame to this column of highly explosive fuel/oxygen mixture and a fireball erupts. In the case of poor Jessica, this meant second- and third-degree burns while she was running for help, her entire upper body on fire.
The 2020 pandemic lockdown caused a drastic drop in vehicle traffic. Gas prices declined to less than $2 per gallon for a while. They are still rising again now, due to the increase in demand, not as a consequence of anything the government is doing. Some folks tried to lock in to the low prices by hoarding gasoline. If your memory extends back to 1973, that’s what happened during the Oil Embargo as well. Gasoline stored in bottles, cans and even buckets built up fumes in basements and storage rooms, with a barrage of fires following shortly back then. This current year, another newspaper’s headline on May 12 warned “Do not fill plastic bags with gasoline” as people were heading down the same route.
Even while filling a “safe” jerry can, explosive fumes come out during fill-up. If the container is in a car trunk or on a truck bed, static electricity between person and container can ignite the mix, producing the aforementioned fireball. Gas cans must always be placed on the ground for filling. If in doubt, it helps to read the safety instructions printed on every gas pump.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of physical science at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.