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Serious Burns as a Result of Gel Fuels

Firepots, FireLites, tiki torches, and other items that use illuminating fuels have been responsible for a series of catastrophic burn injuries in recent months. Two took place within a week of each other recently in New York alone.

A 14-year-old boy and 24-year-old man were severely injured in two separate incidents involving a gel fuel used in ceramic firepots designed to ward off mosquitoes using a citronella scent. In both cases, the firepots were in the midst of being refueled when the fuel ignited "like gasoline."1

After The New York Times approached the gel fuel manufacturer, Napa Home & Garden Inc., regarding the incidents, the product was pulled from Bed Bath & Beyond, who pulled the product nationwide Friday, June 10. In addition, Bed Bath & Beyond sent a notice out to customers and also posted it on their website, which reads in part:

There have been reports of accidents involving gel fuel and firepots. In connection with these reports, we have suspended the sale of these products.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is warning consumers to take precautions when using gel fuel and firepots, and to add fuel only when flames are extinguished and the container is cool to the touch.

Despite this, some news reports indicated the product was still available in stores even after they were officially pulled, so consumers should be alert to purchasing products they may think are merely similar. Home Depot and Sam's Club, in addition to other, smaller retailers, were also known to carry products by Napa Home & Garden Inc.

Safe from toxins, not from exploding vapors

The gelatinous fuel is labeled as "safe," however, this term is "meant only to convey that the fuel, a form of ethanol produced by Fuel Barons Inc. from recycled postconsumer waste, does not emit toxins when it burns."1

Often, the safety language and use instructions are included on portions of the packaging that are meant to be thrown away, so uneducated users or people lighting a product that has been owned for some time, are unaware of the safe ways to handle and light the fuel. The assumption is they work like candles, however, they are quite different.

The gel fuel is highly flammable, being made up of some 90% ethanol. "It is a clear, colorless, volatile and flammable liquid." Lawyer Anne McGinness Kearse states, "Simply put, lighting the firepots can be like lighting gasoline. As the vapors escape the bottle or firepot they can create a torch-like directional flame."

The gel ignites slowly, so many users assume not enough fuel is in the pot. Conversely, the fire pot may appear to have gone out, the fuel used up, and the flame extinguished. However, in both cases, the flame may be invisible to the naked eye, but still present.

When fuel is added in either situation, the entire fuel bottle may ignite and explode, violently spraying lit gel fuel, which sticks to skin and clothes and is incredibly hard to put out. From the City Room blog on The New York Times web site regarding the two recent NY incidents:

Witnesses in both cases said the result was like a napalm bomb going off: the bottles of fuel exploded in a flash. The flaming, jellied fuel stuck to skin and clothing. It refused to stop burning even when the victims dropped to the ground and rolled over, or when bystanders tried to smother the flames with blankets or clothing.

Warnings appear, as do reports of gel fuel burn injuries

On June 14, the Consumer Products Safety Commission issued a "Press statement on gel fuels and other illuminating fuels." In it, the CPSC recommended consumers never refuel a hot product. These warnings come too late for many who have been burned, often severely, by these gel fuels.

The City Room blog detailed six other incidents that have occurred since just April of last year, not including the two NY burn injuries detailed earlier.

GPWs personal injury attorneys are investigating cases of serious burns resulting from gel fuels used in firepots or other items. If you or a loved one have been injured by NAPA Home and Garden firepots or similar products, such as the decorative firepots manufactured and sold by BirdBrain, Inc., please contact us.

Footnotes

  1. Halbfinger, David M. "A Summer Firepot, a 'Safe' Label, and Two Life-Altering Explosions." The New York Times, June, 10, 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/11/nyregion/a-firepot-a-safe-label-and-2-horrible-explosions.html?_r=4>
  2. Halbfinger, David M. "After Accidents, Firepot Manufacturer Stops Sales." City Room blog, The New York Times, June 13, 2011. <http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/after-accidents-firepot-manufacturer-stops-sales/>
  3. Press statement on gel fuels and other illuminating fuels. Consumer Products Safety Comission, June 14, 2011. <http://www.cpsc.gov/pr/fuels06142011.html?utm_source=e&utm_medium=e&utm_term=e&utm_content=headerfooter&utm_name=FIREPOT>
  4. Gel Fuel/Firepot Safety Notice. Bed Bath & Beyond website, viewed June 17, 2011. <http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/GelFuelFirepotNotice.asp>

 

"Witness in both cases said the result was like a napalm bomb going off: the bottles of fuel exploded in a flash."

Photo by Upstate Options Magazine / CC BY 2.0

Firepot and Fuel Manufacturers

Several companies manufacture firepots, gel fuels, and related products. A few of the names you may be familiar with:

  • Napa Home & Garden
  • Napa Home & Garden Firepots
  • NAPAfire
  • NAPAfire Gel Fuel with Citronella
  • NAPAfirelites or firelites
  • Bird Brain, Inc.
  • Firepot Fuel Gel
  • Firepot Citronella Fuel Gel
  • Fuel Barons
  • OZOFire Pourable Gel

 

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