The Fallout from Fire Pots Continues, Will Regulations Follow?

On July 4, three people were severely injured in Del Mar, California, when a firepot exploded as it was re-fueled, spraying the viscous alcohol-based gel on victims sitting less than 10 feet away.

According to a July 12 report in the Del Mar Times newspaper: “One of the victims suffered third-degree burns over 50 percent of their body and had to be transported via helicopter to a hospital. The other two victims each suffered second and third degree burns over 20-30 percent of their body and were taken to the hospital via ambulance.”

In December 2011, a luckier consumer reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s public consumer complaint database, SaferProducts.gov:

“I purchased Firegel pourable Citronella from Bed Bath and Beyond. I went to pour some more in my fire pot and I guess it was still hot. The gel shot out, caught the bottle of firegel on fire and caught my patio chair on fire. Luckily it did not get on my skin and I put the lid on the bottle and it went out. I was also able to stomp my chair out but it was ruined.

Despite a total of 15 companies yanking the product of its shelves, and September 2011 announcement that nine manufacturers and distributors had recalled fire pot liquid fuel gel, fire  pots and their contents continue to represent a danger to consumers. And, the spectacular fallout from a patio ornament that had debuted about three years earlier continues to settle over the business, litigation and regulatory landscapes.

This week the CPSC announced its 2013 operations plan. Within the planning document is a brief mention that the agency would continue its technical review of the safety of fire pots and fuel gels in support of a potential rulemaking. In December 2011, the agency published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, but took no further regulatory steps this year. In several speeches, commission Chairman Inez Tennenbaum has noted. “Our rulemaking is exploring the question of whether it is possible to make gel fuel safe for consumers to use...”

CPSC Tries to Put the Lid on Fire Pots

In May 28, 2011 a 14 year-old boy in Riverhead, N.Y. suffered severe third-degree burns from a fire pot that exploded as he poured fuel into it.  Today he still struggles to recover. In June, Brent Miller, a 51-year-old property manager from Kissimmee, Florida, died after a 33-day hospitalization. Miller was pouring fuel into a fire pot, when it exploded, setting Miller, his wife, plants and other objects on the lanai aflame.

Scenarios such as these have prompted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to regulate so-called fire pots, and the alcohol-based gel that fuels them. Fire pots are portable, decorative “lighting accents,” used both indoors and out. According to the CPSC, firepots were introduced into the marketplace in 2010, with 2.5 million units sold since then. They are often ceramic; some are partially enclosed by glass, and all contain an open stainless steel cup to hold the alcohol-based gel that produces a large flame. They are currently unregulated by voluntary or mandatory standards.

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