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Tiki Torch Gel Fuel Poses Dangers

Please see the accompanying news story regarding gel fuels used for Tiki Torches.

Gel fuel poses extra dangers

Substance similar to napalm

By Karen Nugent TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF

STOW —  It’s the height of summer, when deck, patio, and backyard parties reign.

Recently, basic Tiki torches and citronella candles have been replaced by more chic-looking ceramic patio fire pots, personal fireplaces and fancy torches designed to create a warm, cozy setting while keeping bugs away.

But the gel fuel they require is anything but cozy.

It is warm, though. In fact, it’s hot.

And sticky. So hot and sticky that it acts like napalm — most often associated with wars — in that it sticks to clothing and skin, and cannot be extinguished by the usual “stop, drop and roll” command used for years by firefighting experts.

Putting out a clothing fire caused by gel fuel requires a chemical fire extinguisher, a large amount of baking soda, or close access to a pool or other large body of water, according to Judy L. Comoletti, district manager for public education at the Quincy-based National Fire Prevention Association. She cautioned that running a long distance to a pool or lake could make the fire and resulting burns worse.

At a demonstration at the state fire academy last week, gel fuel, which is marketed under several brand names, some scented, and some with citronella to repel insects, was splashed onto a mannequin wearing a T-shirt. Attempts by Firefighter Brian Whitney, an academy instructor and member of the Concord Fire Department, to pat the fire out with gloved hands failed. The flames, which spread quickly through the shirt, were finally put out with a chemical fire extinguisher. A shirt set on fire without the gel fuel was easily put out by Firefighter Whitney using gloves.

Next, gel fuel was added to several types of ceramic patio pots, one of which was tall and could easily tip over.

Using a thermal imaging camera, fire officials, who were making an educational video for the state fire marshal’s office, could see that the inside of the pot showed extreme heat, which became even hotter when more fuel was added. Firefighter Whitney said the temperature of the partially cooled gel fuel in the pot registered 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Officials were unclear of the difference between older, non-gel, tiki torch fuel and the gelled fuel, except that wicks are needed for the liquid fuel. Ethanol was listed as an ingredient in most of the gel fuels.

Ms. Comoletti said adding gel to an already heated pot is particularly dangerous because the pot can explode, spattering the fuel on clothing, people and pets.

“Usually, we tell people to ‘stop, drop and roll.’ With gel fuel, this does not work,” she said.

Jennifer L. Mieth, spokeswoman for the state Department of Fire Services, said gel fuel raised concerns after a Marshfield woman was severely burned during the Fourth of July weekend at a party in Hanover.

The woman was burned when the hostess added more gel fuel to a ceramic pot. It exploded, and hot fuel shot out of the pot and ignited the woman’s clothing. She jumped into a nearby pool to extinguish the flames, but later was airlifted to a Boston hospital for burn treatment.

Napa Home and Garden, which sells gel fuels, has voluntarily recalled 460,000 of its gel fuel-filled bottles and plastic jugs because of reports of 37 incidents and 23 burns, according to a news release from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The Georgia-based company has also issued a warning on its website advising consumers to wait until flames and pots are cool before adding more gel. Napa sells its gel fuel products at Bed, Bath and Beyond, Amazon.com, Restoration Hardware, and many other home and garden stores.

Other common brands include PatioGlo and OZOfire.