Woman sets herself on fire and Hummer explodes as drivers hoard gas amid Colonial Pipeline fallout

·4-min read
A Hummer carrying four cans of gas burst into flames just after filling up north of Tampa, Florida on 12 May, 2021.  (Citrus County Fire Rescue)
A Hummer carrying four cans of gas burst into flames just after filling up north of Tampa, Florida on 12 May, 2021. (Citrus County Fire Rescue)

A South Carolina woman set herself on fire after a crash and a Hummer exploded with four gas canisters in the back as drivers hoard fuel in the aftermath of the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline.

The vehicle burst into flames after the driver crashed as a deputy tried to stop her for driving with a stolen licence plate, the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office said.

The department said in a statement on Thursday that the woman, driving a 2007 Pontiac G6, sped up after the deputy turned on his lights “in an attempt to elude law enforcement” earlier that evening.

The officer turned on his siren, after which the woman “lost control of the vehicle leaving the roadway and completely flipping the vehicle”.

“The vehicle immediately caught fire and multiple explosions were heard inside the vehicle,” the statement added.

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The driver, later identified as Jessica Gale Patterson, 28, was reportedly on fire when she got out of the car. The deputy pushed her to the ground, trying to put out the fire. She was subsequently taken to hospital by emergency personnel.

But before she left the crash site, police say she told law enforcement that she was “transporting several containers of fuel that she was hoarding in the trunk of the vehicle”.

Police said the gas containers were the “catalyst of the explosions”.

People have been panic-buying gasoline after hackers accessed some of the networks of the Colonial Pipeline, prompting it to temporarily shut down.

The largest deliverer of fuel in the US said in a statement on Thursday afternoon that the entire pipeline had restarted operations and fuel delivery had once again begun.

“Following this restart, it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal,” they said.

“Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during this start-up period. Colonial will move as much gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel as is safely possible and will continue to do so until markets return to normal,” the statement read.

The Pontiac in South Carolina turned into a burning wreck shortly after a Hummer, with several large gas canisters in the back, burst into flames in Florida.

Fire crews were called to the scene shortly before 11am on Wednesday. When they arrived, they found the 2004 Hummer H2 on fire.

A spokesperson for Citrus County Fire Rescue said the driver had just filled up four five-gallon canisters (19L each), which were later found in the back of the vehicle by firefighters.

Citrus County Fire Rescue
Citrus County Fire Rescue

WFLA reported that one person was injured but rejected transport for treatment, going against medical guidance.

The Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating what caused the fire.

Since the pipeline caused gas hysteria, people have been rushing to buy extra fuel. Videos and images have circulated online of long gas lines and some consumers even filling up plastic bags and bottles.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission tweeted on 12 May: “We know this sounds simple, but when people get desperate they stop thinking clearly. They take risks that can have deadly consequences. If you know someone who is thinking about bringing a container not meant for fuel to get gas, please let them know it’s dangerous.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg issued a warning on Wednesday at the White House, advising Americans not to fill plastic bags with gasoline.

“I will say that this is a time to be sensible and to be safe, of course we understand the concern in areas where people are encountering temporary supply disruptions, but hoarding does not make things better,” he said.

“And under no circumstances should gasoline ever be put into anything but a vehicle directly or an approved container, and that of course remains true no matter what else is going on.”

The Hummer caught fire after filling up at a gas station in Homosassa north of Tampa, Florida. American Automobile Association officials urged Tampa residents concerned over fuel shortages not to panic-buy gasoline.

“It’s likely that motorists are seeing reports about supply issues in other states due to the pipeline, and are racing out to top off their tanks,” AAA spokesperson Mark Jenkins told WFLA.

“The problem is, that surge in demand is what actually creates the supply issue, since gas stations can only hold so much fuel at a given time,” he added.

Florida isn’t relying on the Colonial Pipeline to the same extent as some other states. According to AAA, 90 per cent of Florida’s gas is delivered on cargo ships to the state’s ports.

“Florida is said to have access to plenty of gasoline. It’s now just a matter of getting the fuel where it’s needed, primarily those gas stations that are being tapped out due to panic buying,” Mr Jenkins said.

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