Ethanol fireplaces with sleek, blue tinged flames dancing over white smooth rocks seem like the epitome of modern home décor. Without the need for a chimney, and practically odorless, they are an alternative to traditional fireplaces and outdoor fire pits.
But these sleek devices have a dangerous and sometimes fatal drawback – Flame jetting.
According to the ACS Center for lab safety, “Flame jetting happens when a container of flammable liquid meets an ignition source, causing flames to shoot out 15 feet, or even more. Extremely dangerous, this unexpected, blowtorch-like effect can engulf bystanders in flames, leading to serious injury or death.”
Flame jetting can occur in many instances, but the popularity of Ethanol devices used in homes has resulted in an increasing number of ethanol-fueled flame jets. Part of the problem is it can be nearly impossible to tell when the flame is fully extinguished and so people will add more ethanol while the fire is still burning, thinking it is out.
There have been numerous reports of injuries and deaths caused by fires from ethanol-fueled devices. In 2019, two Canadian women sustained serious burn injuries in a flame jetting incident from an ethanol-fueled device. In 2016, Judith Buys suffered fatal injuries from an ethanol fire that occurred at a neighbor’s house. The family filed a lawsuit against the product manufacturer.
In August of 2021, a Virginia family experienced a tragic loss when a woman sustained severe burns from an ethanol fire pot. The incident occurred when the woman, her husband and young daughter were roasting marshmallows on the fire. The husband refueled the fire, unaware that the device was not fully distinguished. This caused flames to shoot across, setting the woman on fire. The man and child also sustained serious injuries. Unfortunately, the woman’s injuries proved to be fatal.
In 2019, Health Canada issued a warning over the safety of ethanol-fueled devices. Australia has banned ethanol-based products that do not meet certain criteria. The United States have issued safety guidelines for use.
In 2016, the National Fire Protection Association released a bulletin on the voluntary recall of gel fuel asking consumers to immediately stop using pourable gel devices like ethanol fire pots.
Has the growing list of injuries and deaths caused by ethanol-fueled fire devices discouraged manufacturers and sellers? Apparently not.
Online retailers (e-tailers) such as Wayfair.com and Amazon.com still have many options available. For example, the Regal Flame PRO 18 Inch Bio-Ethanol Fireplace Burner Insert 2.6 Liter appears to be a popular choice. The product has some positive reviews, but there are also negative reviews directly addressing safety issues.
One negative review gave the product 1 out of 5 stars. The reviewer wrote that there were “no real directions, just lots of warning about the danger of it and what not to do.” There was no information on how to safely use the device or how much fuel to use.
Another reviewer shed more light on the quality of the product in a 1 out of 5-star review. The reviewer had purchased two of these units then quickly discovered that there was no flame control. According to the reviewer, it “has a very large, hot flame.” The products had a metal plate designed for controlling and extinguishing the flames if needed. The metal plate did not work in either unit making it a potential fire hazard.
Manufacturers have a responsibility to protect consumers and should be held accountable if they fail to do so.