Tram going by a fire and shark.
Did these tourists' cell phones start a fire? CC by cliff1066/Flickr

Stories have circulated about cell phones and how they supposedly cause gas pump fires. Has this ever happened, or is it merely an urban legend?

Cell phone lies burning up the Internets

Urban legends are the business of, and the site has trained its laser-guided truthiness-radar on cell phones and gas pump fires. Cell phone manuals may have some token verbiage on the subject, but for the most part, Snopes has found that there’s no hard science behind the idea that cellular signals cause gas pump fires. Sure, it may sound feasible – electromagnetic waves producing a static charge that ignites the gasoline vapor – but there are simply no cases to back it up. You will still want to avoid using your phone around sensitive hospital and air traffic control equipment, but the gas pump warning appears toothless. As far as can tell, rumors of explosions in China and Indonesia stemmed from old Internet yarns dating back to 1999, rather than actual events. Years later, “Mythbusters” burned the whole story to the ground.

Shell Oil’s ‘official’ communiqué

Back in June 2002, an electronic warning from a group claiming to be the Shell Oil Company circulated. It cited three examples that sounded specific enough to be real. The warning centered on the “fact” that all a cell phone had to do in order to send a motorist to a fiery death was ring; the EMP would provide the necessary spark. While the voltage on a cellular battery and the more powerful car battery are the same – 12 V – the current on cell batteries is much lower and hence less dangerous. A scary story about cell phones generating “more than 100 volts” in brief spurts, which would be potentially dangerous, was a falsehood likely planted by old-school phone companies when cellular technology was growing in popularity.

Needless to say, Shell Oil denied it produced the message.

The fear is unfounded

Even in cases when a gas station tank has burst into flames – it has happened – cell phones weren’t be connected. Talk away, but be sure to get the gas in the tank, rather than on your shoes; distraction can be a bad thing.


Daytona Beach News-Journal:

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