Pols call for ‘firepot’ recall after tragic accidents

Federal lawmakers are calling for an immediate recall of all forms of liquid firepot fuel in the wake of the tragic accident involving 14-year-old Michael Hubbard, who suffered serious injuries following a citronella gel candle explosion Memorial Day weekend.

U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), as well as state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham), have sent letters to the Consumer Products Safety Commission to mandate the recall while the agency evaluates the safety of the products.

The lawmakers also urged the commission to investigate manufacturer’s labels that stated the product was safe.

Michael was hospitalized at Stony Brook University Medical Center after pouring fuel into an already lit gel candle. Two young men were injured in a similar accident in Manhattan while using the same product, which is marketed as FireGel. When lit, the jelly-like liquid fuel burns blue or clear, with almost no smoke, making it difficult to determine whether or not there is a flame.

FireGel manufacturer Napa Home & Garden asked its retailer, Bed Bath & Beyond, to pull the product from shelves following a New York Times story that ran earlier this month.

The CPSC has said it is investigating the incident, though it did not mandate a recall of similar products.

“Basically, the design of these products means we have napalm for sale in the garden aisle,” Mr. Bishop said in release issued Friday. “I fear that the upcoming barbecue season could lead to more tragedies unless [these products] stay off shelves pending a full investigation. At that time, we can consider if there is any safe way for this product to be sold or marketed.”

County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) is also sponsoring a bill to ban the sale of fuel gels in Suffolk County.
“There is no question that these products are dangerous and are a threat to the health and safety of county residents,” Mr. Romaine said. “They should not be on the market. We cannot allow another family to suffer the same devastation as Michael’s.”
But one company is calling for the ban to exclude a certain type of gel-fueled fire product.

Real Flame, a Wisconsin-based company that manufacturers gel-fueled fireplaces, said the commission should distinguish between isopropyl alcohol-based fuels, like their products, and ethanol alcohol-based fuels like the involved in Michael’s accident.

Real Flame has sent a letter to Mr. Bishop’s office urging him and other lawmakers to reconsider their request.

“I understand and appreciate the concern that the Congressman has and why he and others are as concerned as they have been, but I would ask that this not be turned into a blanket condemnation of all gel fuel or products while the CSPC investigation is ongoing,” wrote John Ridgeway, Real Flame’s vice president for sales and marketing.

“[Real Flame has] sold over 250,000 bottles of our isopropyl alcohol based gel fuel in the past two years without a single incident,” the letter continued. “We also sell ceramic firepots and have done so the past two years, again without incident.”
Scott Wolfson, the Consumer Products Safety Commission’s public affairs director, said the agency has not yet recalled the products, though it has issued a nationwide warning.

“We have seen the congressman’s letter and we want to be responsive to it,” he said. “But we feel like our first obligation is to make sure all consumers know of these dangers, going into this weekend and beyond. A traditional fire extinguisher or water may not put out [a fire caused by the gel.]”

[email protected]

Looking to comment on this article? Send us a letter to the editor instead.