back to article Illinois bright spark sparks car inferno

An Illinois bright spark, who decided the best way to check the level of combustible fluid in a petrol can was by using a cigarette lighter, ended up with a torched car and second-degree burns. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the unnamed 27-year-old woman was in a gas station in Joliet last week and "was filling up a gas …


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  1. Colin 4

    Natural Selection

    Damn, natural selection was thwarted again by society ! These genes will now probably be passed on to the next generation. Human Devolution continues apace ....

  2. Frank Bitterlich

    ... not life-threatening?

    Of _course_ her injuries were life-threatening.

    No, not the burns, but the brain damage she suffered some time earlier. QED.

  3. Mark Monaghan
    Paris Hilton

    Definitely a Darwin candidate

    Now if she had actually got into the blazing car to drive it way from the pump...

    Paris? Well there's no sign of "Intelligent Design" here.

  4. Bassey
    Thumb Up

    Re: Natural Selection

    > natural selection was thwarted again

    Far from it! Natural Selection = Survival of the Fittest. This woman survived a petrol bomb, despite being just inches away, got back up onto her feet and then pushed a car across a forecourt. And remember, this is the US. That won't be a Renault Clio or a Fiat Panda. That'll be several tons of steel!

    This woman appears to be an evolutionary leap forward. All hail!

  5. Your alien overlord - fear me

    There should be a security video available soon

    since most petrol stations have cameras - should get a lot of hits on YouTube

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Playmobil reconstruction...

    ... damn is only wednesday :(

  7. Andrew Moore

    A little late???

    First thing I thought when I saw this story last week was "So, who is she going to sue for this?"

  8. diver_dave


    Dave Lee Travis did something similar.

    I (dimly) remember a monologue on..

    "the most stupid thing I've ever done".

    Something about a second hand jeep with the fuel

    tank under the seat, a late night and a match....

    Logo seemed appropriate!


  9. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face

    We've all done it...

    Reminds me of the time the petrol cap lock became broken and we had to take an electric drill to it in order to get it out. Scary stuff, somehow we managed not to ignite the fumes.

  10. Urs Keller

    How long until she sues the gas station

    for not warning that checking the fuel with an open flame could lead to the gas exploding?

  11. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Must resist....

    ...insinuations of blondeness!

    Now, what we really need is for someone to hook up the lady from Illinois with that other dim bulb JCR from Spain - the offspring would be guaranteed to go out in a blaze of glory - literally!

  12. RachelG

    OK we need a "most stupid thing you've ever done" thread...

    I'll kick off: In my very first job (in an office) a plug fuse needed changing; so not knowing there were building services people for that sort of thing I set about it myself. But I had trouble pushing the new fuse into the clips in the bottom half of the plug... So I plugged that bottom half into the socket so it would stay firmly in place when I pushed down on both ends of the fuse with my thumbs...

    (NB: to international readers; this is in the UK; 240v mains supply)

  13. Grease Monkey Silver badge


    In Joliet? Well I can see the problem right there. It was dark and she was wearing sunglasses.

  14. Jason D

    Can you even see the tank from the hole?

    As dumb as this woman was in the first place, fair props are due for her trying to move the car away from the pump, it could have been a whole lot worse (see icon).

  15. Dave 145

    Only in America

    And they wonder why we call them Stupid!!!!

  16. OtisAardvark

    @Mark Monaghan

    I'm not sure she'll make the Darwin Award short-list. You forget that to be a candidate the nominee must remove themselves from the gene pool or be rendered effectively sterile to prevent reproduction.

    So near yet so far!

  17. Remy Redert

    Re: Natural Selection

    I have to agree with Colin 4, natural selection was thwarted as the fittest in the case of humans are not those with the best physical capabilities (Though those are a plus), but those with the better intelligence. We evolved away from brute force a long time ago and have lots of tools to help with that now. All we need is the brains to use 'em.

  18. northern monkey

    Is this...

    ..some sort of standard practice in America? Would either knowing your fuel tanks capacity or just getting back in the car and looking at the fuel-meter not just be enough?


    Whilst Sarah Palin was completely wrong (but funny) with her death panel arguments I really wish the NHS just had a 'no, you're too stupid - you deserve to die' policy - they're not giving that kid who caused his liver to fail after a weekend binge drinking a transplant so why should we save prime Darwin award candidates who, in all likelihood, will do something equally stupid within the next few years.


  19. Mark C 1

    @Grease Monkey

    And presumably the lighter was for her half pack of cigarettes ....

  20. Christopher Rogers



    Asshole. She won't do that again in a hurry!

  21. Nigel 11

    Read once, in a secondhand book shop ...

    ... on a very rainy day. Stories about life in the Navy in centuries past. The book opened on this one.

    An officer overheard one of the men say that he'd left a candle burning below decks, "in a barrel of black sand". Black sand? ...?? ...???? Gunpowder!!

    The officer immediately went below and found the candle flame burning level with the gunpowder held back by a ring of wax. Very carefully, he pinched the flame out with his fingers.

  22. Juan Inamillion

    @northern monkey

    Epic fail - try reading the fucking story:

    " Joliet last week and "was filling up a gas can, which was sitting on the passenger seat of the car", as police later explained."


  23. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face

    @RachelG @me

    I just remembered what happened after we drilled the fuel cap out... Had to hoover the steel shavings from the inside of the fuel pipe so they didn't end up in the tank.

    Also have a nasty habit of being electrocuted by dishwashers, but that's another story.

  24. quarky2

    Burma Shave

    In the 50's in the U.S, Burma Shave used to have a series of advertising signs spaced hundreds of yards apart that supplied a little jingle. One that I remember:

    He lit a match


    To check the tank


    That's why they call him


    Skinless Frank


    Burma Shave

  25. Dr. Ellen

    Burma Shave

    There was a lot of 'poetry' on road signs, back when I was young, by the Burma Shave company. One fits:

    He used a match

    To check gas tank

    That's why they call him

    Skinless Frank

    Burma Shave

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Years ago I worked for an American company in London. It was quite difficult dealing with head office because not only was there only a small time overlap each day but they treated us like we lived in some really hick backwater with no idea about technology or tools or suchlike. One of the Londoners I worked with used to take the piss out of them by drawling things like

    In bad US accent: "Do you have electricity over there in Ingland?"

    We had a recurring problem with the frame relay to the US and head office would not believe that we could troubleshoot something like that ourselves so they sent us a "real engineer" out to fix it for us.

    Guy arrives one morning and disappears into the comms room to get on with learning us about technology, all is quiet for a few minutes and then we hear an almighty bang and all the electricals go off, along with the comms room alarms.

    Turns out the guy had plugged his 120v power adapter into the 240v mains which sat there for a minute or so and then exploded in a most amusing way. Guess he learned the hard way that we actually *do* have elastic trickery over here.

  27. Evil_Medic

    Ive heard this little ditty...

    My Bonnie looked into a gas tank.

    The height of its contents to see.

    She lit a small match to assist her.

    Oh, bring back my Bonnie to me.

    Oh and @ Northern Monkey:

    Kinda ironic of you to make fun of all we Americans, where if you'd read the full article prior to posting, you'd see the tank was not the cars, but a portable tank in the cabin-like for a lawnmower. Still incredibly stupid of her- instructions even posted to place all containers on the ground for filling-but read before posting.

  28. Ralph Hodgson
    IT Angle


    Well? No mention of mobile phones, pdas, ipods or anything remotely IT.

    Another almost Darwinian episode snuffed out.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    @Must resist.... #

    ...insinuations of blondeness!

    Shes Black Now...

  30. Anonymous Coward


    Vacuums are key anti-Darwin device, as seen in casualty departments across the globe. 6th form friend was late for a date and had no petrol in his car, so decided to try to syphon some from his parents to his. Using a vacuum cleaner as an improvised fuel pump. Needed new garage, cars, vacuum and hair after that, but kept the girl.

  31. Winkypop Silver badge

    Smokers eh?

    Anyone who voluntarily and repeatedly inhales toxic fumes for pleasure, sure ain't no master mind...

  32. Mike Hebel

    @Dave 145

    Not all of us are stupid. The majority of us spend the rest of the time apologizing for the minority who are.

    Mine's the one with the upside-down American flag on the back...

  33. Anonymous Coward

    @Urs Keller, @Bassey

    > How long until she sues the gas station for not warning that checking the fuel with an open flame could lead to the gas exploding?

    Gas (petrol) pumps here have instructions telling (or warning) you to fill cans by placing them on the ground. And no open flames, etc., etc. If she couldn't follow those instructions, a warning to not check the level with a cigarette lighter probably wouldn't have done any good.

    > And remember, this is the US. That won't be a Renault Clio or a Fiat Panda. That'll be several tons of steel!

    One article I found said it was a 1970 Chevrolet. That could be a Chevy Vega. Even if it's not a Vega, most other American cars of that vintage weigh 3500-4000 lbs -- two tons perhaps, but not several. (Versus the 2800 lbs of a 1971 Triumph 2000 sedan/saloon.)

  34. Anonymous Coward

    @Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face

    That's why they make fuel caps and filler inlets from materials that carry a low risk of sparking along with explosion resitant tanks.

    The sparks inside the drill are another matter....

    Anyway, off to adjust my tv ariel as the lightning storm seems to be affecting it....

  35. northern monkey

    @Juan Inamillion @me

    Certainly was an "epic fail" [a "twunt"y phrase if ever there were one] on her behalf - a fuel tank is even easier to check if it's full - you can see into the bloody thing!!

    Don't troll a flamer!

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Since we're trading insults

    Birmingham Airport car park.

    I guy asks me if he can have a jump start as his battery is dead. "Sure", I say and get my leads out of the boot / trunk. I open the bonnet / hood and he proceeds to attach the both leads to my battery. I say, "You're supposed to connect one at a time to each car in turn." He says, "It's OK" and touches both eletrodes together sending a shower of sparks into the air in front of his face. He could have quite nicely killed himself in front of me.

    Moral of the story? There are a lot of stupid people out there, but not all people are stupid. Even in Blighty.

  37. Richard 102

    @Urs Keller

    Warning stickers? Are you kidding? This happened in Joliet, Illinois, which is in the United States of Litigation. There are warning stickers about this EVERYWHERE at the gas station.

    As I've often said, some people are just beyond help and should have been eaten by wolves years ago. As great as civilization is, it's too bad it so effectively trumps evolution.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    First Class Numpty!

    "later admitted into hospital with serious but not life-threatening injuries"

    Same hospital that will hopefully commit her to a psychiatric ward, for the protection of the rest of us I hope?

  39. Bassey

    Re: Remy Redert

    > We evolved away from brute force a long time ago

    Hey! Less of the "We" pal! Whilst you're stood around with your brainy friends trying to figure out the best way to achieve something, I've already hit it with a hammer!

  40. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    RE: OK we need a "most stupid thing you've ever done" thread...

    Hmmm..... nothing I would want to admit in public, but no need to spare others' blushes! The following are from "valued colleagues" from several different IT jobs:

    Item 1 - The head of IT at a famous London uni, when there was a recall on rack PDUs with suspected faulty earths, decided he should not wait for an engineer but test the units himself. Cue big sparks and a trip to A&E, only being saved from a Darwin Award by the prompt action of another member of staff. This was despite his repeatedly having told me what a computing genius he was, that thirty years IT experience meant I could never be as clever or experienced as him, etc, etc....

    Item 2 - Faculties manager that decided to check the integrity of a fire escape by jumping up and down on the landing whilst it was wet from rain. He slipped and fell down a flight, breaking his leg and giving himself concussion. We did discuss pushing him down the remaining flight to finish him off seeing as what a monumental pain in the prosterior he was.

    Item 3 - Salesman that decided he could use his estate car as a delivery van despite it not having any means of strapping down the large number of small but heavy boxes. When he braked heavily the kit came forward and hit him on the back of the head, squashing him against the wheel and causing him to drive into another vehicle. The funniest bit was the company car insurance expressly excluded the carriage of goods!

    Item 4 - HR manager, desperate to get home in time to catch Eastenders (I kid you not!), who got tired of waiting for the AA (paid for by the company) and decided to jack her car up on a muddy bank to change a punctured wheel. The car slipped off the jack and came down on her foot. She was a bottle blonde.

  41. Jimbo 6
    IT Angle

    "What's the IT angle" ?

    Simple -

    IT = Inflammation Technology, in this case

    (the technology being a lighter - at least she knew how to work one of those)

  42. Sly

    Yeah... ingnorant...

    Though the minority are what might be called a few bricks shy of a load, the Majority still like to watch and laugh at it and say they would never do it, even though they too have their moments. I also don't care what country you're in... every country has their unfair share of dupes and slackers that don't educate themselves (reading warning signs? bah! hold my beer and check this out!).

    If anyone saw the last Episode of Top Gear, their segment on drivers of crappy cars points out more than a couple cases of idiots in Jolly ol' England as well as the American grease monkey wrecking a customer's car in the oil change bay. And if you ever wanna see proof that idiots are everywhere... just browse youtube for a while.

    Idiots that claim superiority without the facts to back it up (and even then) are just setting themselves up for the fall (pride comes before and stuff).

  43. Anonymous Coward

    I for one...

    "This woman appears to be an evolutionary leap forward. All hail!"

    I for one welcome our brawny but incredibly stupid overlords.

  44. handlex2

    Joilet Illinois

    That explains the entire situation!

  45. Jeffrey Nonken

    @William Claude Dukenfield

    "He says, "It's OK" and touches both eletrodes together sending a shower of sparks into the air in front of his face. He could have quite nicely killed himself in front of me."

    By swallowing the battery, maybe. Unless UK car batteries produce a much higher voltage than those here in the US, there's not enough to hurt him.

    Yes, I know, it's current that kills, not voltage. If you apply Ohm's law you'll see that for a given resistance, the lower the voltage, the lower the current. 12v isn't enough to kill you. It's not enough to hurt you. You can hold one terminal in each hand all day and not feel a tingle, except the part where your arms go numb from staying in an awkward position too long.

    If UK car batteries run at 96v, though, there certainly is a danger. 48v not so much though you might feel it. Maybe if your hands are wet. Skin resistance varies and I haven't done the numbers but I think 48v wouldn't be more than uncomfortable. Maybe somebody will correct me if I've got that one wrong.

    Those sparks, now, are impressive. I always love watching movies where they torture the hero with electric shocks, and show you how nasty it is by first stroking the wires together to make those lovely sparks. THAT is high current through a near-zero-ohm connection, and said hero won't feel a damned thing unless they apply it to his tongue. Or other mucous membranes. Normally they don't show that because the other mucous membranes are X-rated. Well, not the nostrils.

    The biggest dangers in hooking two car batteries together are 1) sparks igniting battery vapors (or fuel) and 2) exploding batteries or burning out circuits from hooking them together wrong. Hook up the ground last and hook it to the chassis. Make sure you know which terminal is grounded.

  46. James O'Brien

    Stupidest thing Ive done

    Lets see I guess a good one would be what happened a few weekends ago at parents house (Though not 100% sure this classes as stupid so much as accident)

    Helping do some remodeling at parents house (Slab foundation), needed to drill a hole to set a new bolt. Out comes the 7mm 6inch masonry bit. Fast forward about 5 minutes worth of drilling to me wondering why water was coming out of the hole around the bit. Pull bit out to have a mini-Old Faithful in the bathroom where I was drilling. Turns out there was an undocumented water line buried in the slab.

    That was a nice $800 for the plumber. Luckily my parents didnt make me pay for that one :)

  47. Marina

    Was she an alien?

    If the woman had any experience pumping gas from US gas pumps she ought to know they have an automatic shut-off when the fuel level reaches the pump. So no need to see, nor light matches to see better. Just put can on ground, shove pump into opening in can (open cap first!) and pump till it shuts off, hang up, pay, put can in car and leave. Ought to be idiot proof, but apparently idiots have evolved since this feature was invented.

    On a side note, I have to say this auto-shut-off leaves my motorbike with about half a tank if used indiscriminately since the filler neck of a car's gas tank is much longer than on a bike and the pumps reach too far into the tank.

    Instead I have to carefully place the end of the pump about 1 cm. below the filler neck on the tank, then hold it still while pumping until it shuts off, check that the tank indeed is full (so I don't have to fill up too often) and at the same time make sure I don't fill over the filler neck since that can cause vacuum in the tank and problems with the fuel feed.

    Despite these issues with filling up my bike I manage every time, even at night, to do it without the use of matches, torches, or lighters. Even though the bike is black.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Jeffrey Nonken

    Depends on the battery, the one I had one the jeep in Canada could punch out over 650 CCA (Cold cranking amps) and closer to 850amps in warm weather.

    Sweaty hands could be enough to overcome the skin resistance and having that kinda of current discharge into you wouldn't be pleasant

    Worse the battery could have exploded showering the idiot and the other party with acid

    Or not as bad killed the ECU / other electronics in the car due to the short.

  49. Warren Buckles

    I thought this only happened with iPhones

    She should have used her iPhone.

  50. Mr Larrington
    Paris Hilton


    I'm going to Chicago at the weekend. Should I pack fireproof grundies?

  51. Witty username


    oh thats right, its in odds n sods. learn to read!

  52. Anonymous Coward

    Not a Darwin Award, but a Darwin Honourable Mention

    She doesn't qualify for a Darwin Award, as she survived and is (presumably) still able to reproduce. However, the Darwin Honourable Mention covers precisely cases such as hers: people who were life-threateningly stupid but lived to hear the tale told about them...

  53. elderlybloke

    Oh I remember

    when I got the job of Safety Officer at a City Council , because the accident rate was high and the Insurance Co. warned them that their premium was going to get jacked up 30% each year if they didn't improve.

    My primary job was surveying and designing Sewer Systems , and I am not sure why that made me

    the one selected .

    t was interesting , learning about the ingenious ways people found to injure , main and kill themselves at work.

    I found that those who injured themselves or damaged their vehicle were the most resistant to changing their attitude and practices .

    Also spent a few years as a Volunteer Ambulance Officer, and found that crashing your car at high speed , putting your head through a glass door , and other such things was done by those seemed to intent on doing dangerous things until they terminated themselves.

    Mostly after the session of drinking brain numbing liquids.

    This is in New Zealand, so it seems to be world wide .

  54. Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like

    Fills gas can......$10

    Fills auto with gas....$40

    lights up......$.01

    Burns up car and nearly station.................priceless

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