NEW PALTZ -- The ExxonMobil Corporation and town officials are investigating a freak fire at a New Paltz gas station Thursday that is believed to have been ignited by a college student's cell phone.
The unusual incident has generated considerable media attention, in part because some studies having suggested it's unlikely a cell phone's operation could spark such a fire.
Matthew Erhorn, 21, received minor burns after answering his flip-style phone Thursday night.
New Paltz fire officials said the hand-held device sparked a ''flash'' fire from gas vapors as Erhorn was filling up the tank of his 1994 Isuzu Rodeo.
''Any type of cell phone emits a small spark,'' New Paltz Fire Chief Pat Koch told reporters at the Route 299 station, where broadcast news crews assembled Friday morning. ''Cell phones and gas pumps really don't mix.''
A cashier is credited with quickly deploying an extinguishing system that sprayed fire-suppressing white powder all over the property. This prevented property damage and serious injury.
Known as Ansul, the dry chemical robs fire of oxygen. The system must be recharged before pumps are reopened.
''If you see a white mess, it's a success,'' said town Building Inspector Tom Wiacek, who was planning to meet with the Mobil station's Ansul contractor to verify the recharge Friday.
Authorities said the incident shows the importance of safety precautions posted at gas stations.
''They're there for a reason,'' said Stacy Delarede, a town building and fire inspector. ''People should read the signs and not answer their cell phones. ... It is well-documented that it is dangerous to do that.''
ExxonMobil spokeswoman Patty Delaney also said customers must heed the signs.
''This is a demonstration of why we put those (signs) on the pumps,'' she said. ''Safety is a priority for us.''
Some research studies suggest cell phones sparking gas pump fires is just an urban legend, with static electricity more likely to create such fires.