Cell Phones have Caused Explosions at Gas Stations-Fiction!



Summary of eRumor:

There are several different versions that describe instances when explosions or fires were caused at gas stations by people using cell phones.

The Truth:

The bottom line is that there are no documented cases that anyone can find of gas fumes being ignited by a cell phone.  

The issue is not a simple one, however, because some oil companies have issued bans on cell phones at their stations and cell phone manufacturers have printed warnings about using their equipment around fuel vapors.  

Some observers say that the warnings are reactions to the false rumors of explosions and deaths caused by cell phones.

One of the eRumors describes three occasions of fires from cell phones: A man who was burned when a cell phone sitting on a bumper rang and caused and explosion; a man who was burned in the face while talking on his phone as he was pumping gas; a man whose phone caused a fire in the pocket of his pants while pumping gas.  There’s no proof that any of the stories is true.

Another oft-repeated story comes from Adelaide, Australia where, it is said, an explosion at a gas station in 1999 was caused by a man using a cell phone.  A spokesperson for the the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service says, however, there was no cell phone involved in the fire and he doesn’t know how the rumor about the cell phone got started.  The incident was mentioned in a 1999 article in The Bankok Post, which also said that a man from Indonesia was burned when his cell phone caused an explosion at a gas station. No substantiation has ever been found.

A wire service story circulated in 1999 out of Trail, British Columbia that said a man caught fire when the cell phone he was using caused an explosion while he filled his gas tank at a gas station.  It caused quite a stir in Canada, but was later declared an urban legend.

Cell phone makers including Motorola and Nokia have included warnings about not using cell phones around gas vapors.  In August of 1999, David Rudd, a spokesman for Motorola, told the San Francisco Chronicle that his company’s warning was because of the remote possibility that a dislodged battery cause cause a spark, not because of the transmission of radio signals.  

After stories started circulating in 1999 about explosions caused by cell phones, many companies began issuing bans on cell phone use at their gas stations including Chevron, Union 76, Circle K, Shell, Petro-Canada, Esso, and Exxon.  Portable phones have been banned at gas stations in parts of Europe for many years, but Nokia spokesperson Megan Matthews told the Associated press on Jan 14, 1999 that those rules were from a bygone era when portable phones were more powerful than modern phones and that the bans were rarely enforced.

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

Example # 1

Hey Everyone! This was sent to me by one of our volunteers, Carol. Her
husband works for Shell and it was from their office to warn employees
of this danger. Please pass this on to your co-workers, family and
 If you’re USING Mobile Phones while driving a car keep them in the
car while filling up fuel. There have been 3 known cases so far. Case 1-
– 2 months ago at a gas station, the car owner put his hand phone on
the bumper and started pumping fuel. The phone rang and the car caught
fire from the fumes coming out of the tank. Case 2 A man got his face
burnt while talking on the phone as he was pumping gas. Case 3 A man
burnt his pants because the phone was in his pants pocket and rang while
pumping gas. Obviously, using a handsfree WILL NOT reduce the risk. KEEP
THE PHONE IN THE CAR, away from the fumes. Almost all phones will
indicate “Missed Calls” & the number. So why take the risk? Apparently
it is the key pad or ringer that produces a small amount of electricity
spark, enough to ignite the gas fumes. Please take note and forward this
to your friends. Aston Cooke Brand Communication & Public Affairs
Manager The Shell Company (W.I.) Limited

Example # 2

Warning: Cell phone use in gas stations

Cell Phones…..

In case you do not know, there was an incident where a driver suffered burns and his car severely damaged when gasoline fumes ignited an explosion while he was talking on his mobile phone standing near the attendant who was pumping the gas. All the electronic devices in gas stations are protected with explosive containment devices, (intrinsically safe) while cell phones are not. 


Mobile phone makers Motorola, Ericsson, and Nokia, all print cautions in their user handbooks that warn against mobile phones in “gas stations, fuel storage sites, and chemical factories.” Exxon has begun placing “warning stickers” at its gasoline stations. The threat mobile phones pose to gas stations and their users is primarily the result of their ability to produce sparks that can be generated by the high-powered battery inside the phone. 

Please pass this on.