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Eric T. Chaffin
Eric T. Chaffin
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Consumers Still Waiting on Firepot Regulations

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It's been nearly a year and a half since the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and nine manufacturers implemented a national recall of gel fuel, the sticky fuel substance used in patio and outdoor firepots. The fuel had been linked with adverse reports involving over 90 people, with 89 injured by second- and third-degree burns, and at least two killed.

In December 2011, the CPSC acted as if it were going to create new regulations for firepots, but they've taken no further action since then. Meanwhile, despite the 2011 recall and 15 companies withdrawing the product from the market, consumers are still suffering injuries.

Injuries Still Reported After Recall

On July 4, 2012, over a year after the fuel gel recall, friends at an evening party in California added more fuel to a firepot that looked like it had gone out. The result was a fireball explosion that sent three people to the hospital. One woman had over 50 percent of her body burned.

The incident brought back memories of the injuries that had led to the recall in the first place. The New York Times reported in June 2011 that a 14-year-old boy had to fight for his life after being burned by citronella gel fuel. His cousin had tried to light a ceramic firepot for a backyard wedding reception.

During the same month, a young man from Manhattan was nearly killed when his friend poured more fuel on a pot in preparation for an evening with friends. Many victims of firepot injuries have filed lawsuits to hold the companies liable. At least two of those companies—Napa Home & Garden and Fuel Barons—have filed for bankruptcy because of the litigation. Bird Brain has also reportedly been liquidated.

Regulations Still Slow in Coming

In December 2012, the CPSC announced its 2013 operational plan. It mentioned firepots only briefly, however, stating that the CPSC will continue their technical review of the safety of the products and fuel gels in support of potential rulemaking. Commission Chairman Inez Tennenbaum has indicated that the rulemaking is exploring whether it's possible to make the gel fuel safe for consumers to use.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has stated that gel fuel should be banned because it's not safe. It tends to stick to skin while burning, making the fire difficult to put out and exacerbating burn injuries. A firepot flame often appears to be out while it's still burning, encouraging consumers to try to refuel over a burning flame. The results have been explosive and devastating.

Even though most fuel gels have been removed from the market, manufacturers are busy making alternatives for the popular firepot products. New firepots may have single-use canned fuel gels, or "snuffers" to be sure the flame is out before adding more fuel. Thus, it appears that regulations setting a higher standard of safety for such products are still needed.

Many Consumers Still Unaware

Though it's difficult to find fuel gels still available for sale except for on remote sites on the Internet, consumers may still have some stored in their garages or sheds. Meanwhile, certain organizations are trying to get the word out.

In November 2012, ABC News in San Francisco warned the public that fuel gel may still be stored in homes around the country. Firefighters from Palo Alto, California put together a video to demonstrate how quickly and easily these gels can cause injuries, while the National Association of State Fire Marshals has called for a ban on the products.

The CPSC warns consumers to always keep burning pots away from children and pets, and to be sure the flame is completely out before refueling.

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  1. Becky says:
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    I am one of the victims of this killer fuel gel. I was burned well over 50% of my body had very little chance of surviving. I was in the hospital three months. I am a Navy wife with 2 young daughters. I am still having reconstructive surgeries and am horribly scared including my face. I have no feeling on the places burned and can’t freely move my body. The mental scars and memory of that horrible day not to mention the worst pain one could suffer will forever be with me and my family and friends who saw me running for my life because stop, drop and role did not work. The gel stuck to me because it was a gel and it burned so clear you could not see it. God spared my life but I will never be who I was and can never do what I used to do. Every day I am stared at and reminded of my accident. This gel must be outlawed.