Tabletop firepots can explode, cause serious burns

10:06 AM, Jul 10, 2012   |    comments
A video from the Consumer Product Safety Commission shows the danger that can be posed by the gel fuels.
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(USA Today) -- Consumers and relatives of victims are pushing for a ban on tabletop firepots and the "gel fuels" used to ignite them because of the burn risks.

Firepots, which are also known as personal fire pits or fire bowls, are popular candlelike decorations that have sold for $20 to $40 since late 2009. The gel-like fuels used to light them burn without a visible flame, which makes it possible to unintentionally refill a firepot while it's still ignited. Gel fuel flames can also travel up into the bottle of pourable gel fuel, causing it to explode.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission last fall recalled all the pourable gel fuel used to light firepots. At least 86 people have been injured and two killed in gel fuel fires, CPSC says.

Once lit, gel fuel is so hard to put out that even "stop, drop and roll" or water won't put it out, says CSPC, which recommends fire extinguishers.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who calls gel fuels "over-the-counter napalm," said Monday that all gel fuels should be banned as they are "not safe to use." She pushed for a gel fuel ban after several incidents in her state, including a 3-year-old child who was seriously burned after a firepot was knocked over.

Eric Chaffin, a lawyer specializing in gel fuel lawsuits, worries many consumers don't know they are supposed to return any gel fuel purchased last year. He says several new victims have contacted him since the start of summer.

Fireplace gel fuel maker Real Flame sold pourable gel fuel for nearly two years without an incident and says it got less than 10% of its products back during the recall. Real Flame's John Ridgeway says many people may have already used the product, but says firepot makers are exacerbating the problem by telling people on packaging to use pourable gel fuel.

Of 37 responses to a CPSC rulemaking request, 35 - including one from the National Association of State Fire Marshals - said gel fuels for firepots should be banned outright. Most responses also supported bans on firepots that use gel fuels.

Gel fuel and fire pots "are very dangerous products, cannot be used safely, and should be pulled from the market permanently," wrote Michael Hart, whose wife was burned on up to 70% of her body in a gel fuel firepot explosion.

Real Flame recommends consumers avoid firepots because even firepots with canned gel fuel can tip over and burn people. But Christine King, founder of BirdBrain, a maker of firepots and gel fuel, told CPSC that there should be a voluntary safety standard because a complete ban "could have a devastating effect for multiple small businesses."

(USA Today)

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