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As you begin to break out your boats and motor bikes, lawnmowers and power tools, a special word of caution is in order about using and storing gasoline. Gasoline vapors are highly combustible and the cause of numerous household tragedies.

Gasoline is intended for use as a motor fuel only. Unfortunately, too many people also find it useful as a stain remover, to light charcoal grills and for other popular but hazardous purposes.

It is extremely dangerous to use or store gasoline inside the home, because its invisible vapors travel quickly and can be ignited by a single spark from an appliance pilot light or even from turning on a light switch. In particular, never store gasoline anywhere near a water heater with its constantly burning pilot light. When gasoline vapors ignite, the result is a flash fire.

"Every year there are tragic news stories about people seriously burned when using gasoline," says Meri-K Appy, vice president for education with the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). "Most often, these injuries occur because the fuel was used improperly."

The NFPA offers the following safety advice for working with gasoline:

Fueling Extinguishing smoking materials and keep gasoline well away from all open flames and spark producing equipment. Use only containers with tight-fitting caps that are designed for and have been approved for gasoline storage.

Never use glass or thin plastic bottles or jugs for gasoline or any other flammable liquid. In most states it is illegal to store gasoline in an unapproved container.

Always place the container on the ground before filling and keep the hose nozzle in contact with the container. Never fill a container while it is in the trunk of a car or in the back of a truck or sports utility vehicle.

"Over the past few years, we've documented several fires at service stations involving the filling of portable containers in pick-up trucks," explains NFPA senior flammable liquids engineer Robert Benedetti. "The fires involved both metal and non-metal containers and the trucks were fitted with plastic bed liners. Apparently, the containers accumulate a static electric charge as they slid back and forth on the liner. Because the liner is not conductive, the charge can't bleed off. When the dispenser nozzle is brought close to or contact the container, the charge grounds itself via the nozzle. If the charge is strong enough, it does so as a spark and the vapors in the container ignite."

Transport To safely transport gasoline from the service station to home, be sure to use an approved container that is tightly capped. In a car, place the container in the trunk and keep the trunk lid open for ventilation. In a truck, secure the container to prevent sliding. If the truck has a cab or is a van-type truck, open the side or tailgate window. Remove the container promptly and store it safely. Never store a gasoline container inside a vehicle.

Storage and Use Store as little gasoline as practical, and never inside the house. Keep gasoline in an approved container, out of the reach of children, preferably in a locked storage shed or garage. Do not store gasoline in your yard, where it could be used as a tool of arson. Extinguish materials and keep open flames and spark-producing equipment away when refilling gasoline-powered lawnmowers and tools. Before refueling, turn off the equipment and wait for the motor to cool. Clean up spills promptly using cat litter or sand for large spills.

Fueling Boats Before fueling a boat, extinguish smoking materials and shut down all motors, fans and heating devices. Be sure the fueling nozzle is grounded to the fuel intake and don't fill to capacity--leaving room for expansion. Wipe up fuel spills immediately and check the bilge for fuel leakage and before starting the motor, ventilate with the blower for at least four minutes.

Mixed with Pool Chemicals Liquid and solid chlorine-based oxidizers are commonly sold for home pool care as hydrogen chloride products. These chemicals have been known to spontaneously combust if contaminated by organic materials such as body fluids, acid rain, etc., or by hydrocarbon liquids such as gasoline or motor oil. This type of fire will result in toxic fumes that can be extremely dangerous and require evacuations from nearby homes.

Store and use pool chemicals according to the manufacturer's recommendations, and always store them outside the home, away from any heat source or flame. Keep the containers in a dry place, well away from other items. If the container is punctured or otherwise damaged, properly dispose of the chemicals.

The National Fire Protection Association, based in Quincy, MA, has dedicated itself to fire safety since 1896. They can be reached at (617)984-7274, or on the Internet at



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