Quick thinking of Hitchin garage cashier and customers helps to avert catastrophe as car goes up in flames at petrol station

Angie Catania showed quick thinking to turn off the petrol pumps and clear the forecourt after a car

Angie Catania showed quick thinking to turn off the petrol pumps and clear the forecourt after a car pulled into the garage with smoke coming from it. - Credit: Archant

The quick thinking of a garage cashier and members of the public helped avert a catastrophe when a car burst into flames right on top of 40,000 litres of fuel.

The aftermath of the car fire at the BP garage. Photo: Mark Burgess.

The aftermath of the car fire at the BP garage. Photo: Mark Burgess. - Credit: Archant

A woman drove a black Ford Cougar with smoke coming from its bonnet into the BP petrol station garage in Bedford Road, Hitchin, just as many schoolchildren were gathered on the forecourt on their way to the nearby Priory School.

The woman parked the car next to a pump and told long-serving garage cashier Angela Catania ‘it smelled funny’.

Quick-witted Angela, who was working alone in the garage shop at the time, had already noticed the smoking car drive onto the forecourt and turned off the petrol supply to the pumps.

The Hitchin resident said: “We have 40,000 litres of fuel in our underground tanks so I politely asked her if she could move the car – but she said she was too scared.


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“There was more and more smoke coming from the bonnet, but a man in the queue volunteered to reverse it to a quiet corner of the forecourt.

“So much was going on I didn’t have a chance to thank him.”

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Two other men then bravely volunteered to use the station’s fire extinguishers on the car after it was moved, with one of them telling Angela he was an off-duty fireman – but despite their best efforts the car erupted into flames yards from the pumps.

Heroic Angela, who has worked at the store for 23 years, had never experienced a car fire before.

She said: “I was quite shocked after it went up in flames.

“The noise was what I remember. It sounded like popping or crackling.

“I was relieved I managed to evacuate everyone from the forecourt as I dread to think what could’ve happened.

“After I switched off the pumps my main concern was to get all the kids away. I said in a calm voice: ‘Please stay well back.’

“I was worried before the car burst into flames as I wasn’t sure how big the fire would be or if there was going to be an explosion.”

Thankfully there was no explosion and fire service turned up quickly to put it out. Angela then helped console the woman whose car it was.

She said: “She was around 30 and in tears. She kept apologising but I said to her don’t worry.

“I’m not a hero in any way. I was just doing my job. I’m just glad everyone was safe.

“I must admit when I got home I did say to my family: ‘Well, I had an interesting day today.”

A spokesman for the fire service confirmed there was a car fire at the garage. No casualties were reported.

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