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Fire caused by the accidental ignition of petrol vapour

How this fire happened


The occupier was working on a motorbike in his garage.

He removed the fuel tank and poured the contents into a steel container under his workbench.

He was cleaning various components using petrol and had a drip tray under the bike to catch the contaminated fuel.

The up and over garage door was closed, at the time, but the side door was open.

He needed to examine some threaded holes so he decided to solder a 6v light bulb onto a wire and connect it to the battery, so that he could see right inside.

To do the soldering, he decided to use a wax covered taper. In order to use the taper, he had to melt off the wax so he stood in the doorway with a match doing this.

At some point during this process, petrol vapour in the garage ignited.

The tray under the motorbike was alight, so he tried to slide it out, but only got it as far as the doorway because of the step.

He went to the house to get a bucket, and bowls of water, but when he returned other items were alight either side of the burning tray.

After 3 or 4 trips, he gave up and opened the up and over garage door to try and remove some items.

The occupier was seriously injured during this incident and required skin grafts.

The effect it had


"The whole thing regarding the garage fire for me was that I lost a lot of my personal belongings, which can never be replaced.

Going back to that day is still very vivid in my mind, I was out at the time with my husband shopping and received a call telling me the garage was on fire.

We raced home as quickly as we could. When I saw the state of what was left of the garage I was in shock. I cried; all of the things that had been my life had gone.

Photos of my children since they were babies all gone not to be seen again, photos of both my parents gone (and both my parents are dead), photos of my brother who I lost to cancer gone.

This was sad for me and not easy to deal with. My brother-in-law was in the garage when the fire started and burned his leg, this was an accident but I was so full of emotion at the devastation I could not bring myself to ask if he was OK.

This may sound awful, but there is no way in my mind that he should have been in a confined space messing with his motorbike.

May I just say, lessons have been learned and he will never do anything so silly ever again. Me, I will take years to get over this, if I ever will.




This case study was contributed by West Sussex Fire & rescue Service.

Safety message​

Petrol that is exposed to air will give off vapour, even at low temperatures.

This mixture of vapour and air is highly flammable, and does not easily disperse.


It is also heavier than air and will tend to run along the ground and can cause a flammable atmosphere some distance away from its source.

If this vapour comes in contact with an ignition source (such as a flame or spark) it can lead to a devastating fire or explosion. 

  • Keep any petrol that is not being used in a suitable sealed container.

  • If you do need to use petrol, make sure the area is well ventilated and that there are no ignition sources present.

  • Ideally fill up machinery, such as lawn mowers, outside in fresh air and immediately replace the lid on the fuel tank and container.

  • Allow plenty of time for vapour to disperse before starting machinery, and never try to re-fuel with the engine running.

  • Use petrol with great care and only for appropriate specific uses.

  • Never be tempted to use it to start bonfires or barbecues. 

If you do discover a fire involving petrol do not try to tackle it using water, this can spread the fire and you risk being injured. Leave the area immediately and call the Fire Service.

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