WOLCOTTSVILLE — She’s received countless e-mailed warnings and shrugged off every one of them.

If the “warning” stickers have been stuck to gas pumps all along, she never noticed them.

Until now, that is, as her family deals with the fallout of a freak accident that nearly cost her brother his life.

Randy Hobbs, 35, of Haseley Road, remains hospitalized indefinitely in the burn unit at Erie County Medical Center while he recovers from second- and third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body. From the back of his pickup truck on June 2, he was filling gas cans at the Western Door gas station in Akron when he caused an explosion.

As Hobbs dragged a plastic can along the plastic bedliner of his truck, he created a spark, which ignited gas fumes and threw fire all over him, according to his sister, Sandy Kress.

“It’s static electricity. We’ve gotten a million e-mails about this sort of thing — and whoever really believed it?” she said Monday.

Slowly, in her brother’s lucid moments since the explosion, Kress has pieced together the sequence of events that led up to it. Now that she understands, she wants Hobbs’ experience to stand as a cautionary tale to others.

“If it can help save one person’s life ... ,” she said.

Early on the afternoon of June 2, a sultry Saturday, Hobbs took four gas cans to the gas station, two metal and two plastic. He didn’t take the cans off his truck before filling them; instead, he unlatched the pickup bed door and started filling them from there. After filling the two metal cans, apparently he grabbed a plastic can and pulled it closer to him.

“Randy told me he saw a spark, saw the spark ignite and saw the fire. He said his first instinct was to pull the (plastic) can off the truck, and he must have, because there was no damage to the bedliner. All the damage was (on the truck exterior),” Kress said.

Witnesses said when Hobbs’ clothing caught fire, he ran toward a grassy area, pulling his shirt off along the way, then dropped and rolled to try putting out the flames. Others on the scene doused the fire at the pump with water, doused Hobbs with water and got him wrapped in blankets, Kress said.

When they were called about the accident, Hobbs’ parents and Kress both went to the Western Door to meet up with emergency crews, claim his truck and learn more about the incident. Disturbingly, Kress said, she found her brother’s partly burned Sabres cap laying in a puddle of water near the truck.

“I still can’t fathom the fact that his head was on fire,” she said. “He remembers running, screaming as loud as he could and rolling around like a little kid. He told me he was ready to stop” because of the pain and terror.

Eleven days later, Hobbs remains on high doses of a morphine derivative to quell the pain of skin-graft surgeries on his chest and right arm, plus daily skin scraping to remove dead skin cells on the left side of his face and other areas. His eyes and lungs are fine, and he’s able to eat again, but sitting up causes Hobbs agony and he’s going to have to learn to walk all over again, Kress said.

“He’s going to be in (ECMC) a while ... but he’s going to be OK,” she said. “Luckily, he was healthy when this happened. He’s getting lots of support from people who know and love him.”

Amazingly, the filled gas cans on the back of Hobbs’ truck did not ignite.

“That’s the miracle in all of this,” Kress said. “That and the fact that Randy didn’t get killed.”

The Town of Alabama Volunteer Fire Company, which responded to the fire, determined that friction between the gas container and Hobbs’ truck bedliner sparked the explosion. It is the first known instance of static electricity sparking a gas-station fire in his district, Chief Kevin Hendershott said.

“It’s rare but, obviously, it can happen. That’s why all gas tanks are supposed to carry the warning label,” he said.

According to the Niagara County Fire Coordinator’s Office, static electricity can be generated when plastic drags on plastic or metal drags on metal. Even thin wire used to secure a container to a truck can generate static when the two rub against each other.

Plastic friction generating sparks is a bit of a surprise to Fire Coordinator Jim Volkosh, but under the right conditions, especially dry air, he said, anything is possible.

To cut static electricity generation, gas containers should be removed from a vehicle or pickup bed and set on the ground before they’re filled.

Other advice given on the gas-pump warning labels includes: do not re-enter a vehicle during fueling; and leave cell phones and other electronic devices inside the vehicle during fueling.

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