''Safe'' Firepots Lead to Near-Death Experiences
A Long Island wedding reception turned tragic when a 14-year-old boy was severely burned in May of this year. Just a week later, an identical blaze in Manhattan nearly killed a 24-year-old man and his best friend. The cause? Jellylike citronella fuel used in common ceramic firepots. Marketed as "the Safe Pourable Gel," FireGel has proven to be anything but.
Witnesses to the two fires describe the gel as napalm or a gasoline and are outraged at the manufacturer, Napa Home & Garden, Inc. They say the product warnings did not provide any indication of how dangerous the fuel and pots could be to operate safely. "It should say 'lethal weapon,'" said Robert Mitzman, the father of the 24-year-old man.
In the case of the wedding reception, it appeared the fuelpot was not burning. The young man, following the direction of his aunt, tried to light it. When it seemed that the gel did not catch fire, the boy added more fuel. His attempts resulted in an explosion covering him in flames.
In Manhattan, a group of friends was preparing to celebrate Jon Mitzman's 24th birthday on a Third Avenue terrace. Just before most of the guests had arrived, Mitzman noticed a pot had apparently burned out. As he poured in additional fuel, the gel exploded throwing flaming jelly on a guest. Though Mitzman was badly burned, the fireball nearly killed his friend.
Only introduced in 2008, gel fueled firepots are a fairly new type of product on the market. Unlike traditional citronella candles or other patio torches, firepots do not use wicks. This can make it difficult for users to ascertain whether the pot is lit.
As a result of the accidents, Napa Home & Garden, Inc. directed retailers to pull its products from their shelves until a new warning label could be added. Other manufacturers of similar products are also revisiting the directions and warnings included on their products.
Further, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a voluntary recall of all pourable gel fuels made by nine specific manufacturers:
- Bird Brain Inc.
- Bond Manufacturing
- Sunjel Company
- Fuel Barons Inc.
- Lamplight Farms Inc.
- Luminosities Inc.
- Pacific Décor Ltd.
- Real Flame
- Smart Solar Inc.
Having received reports of 65 injury incidents, including two fatalities, the CPSC opened an investigation into the safety of the fuel gel products. As a result of its findings, it issued the September 1, 2011, recall in cooperation with nine manufacturers and distributors.
Consumers in Massachusetts and other states may have legal options available beyond receiving a refund of the product, especially if they were injured. A product liability attorney can assist clients in pursuing civil litigation or other avenues of recourse against manufacturers and distributors of injury-causing products.