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Health Canada calls on companies to stop selling fuelled firepots after deaths

A demonstration of "flame-jetting," which can result when filling a firepot with pourable fuel. .
A demonstration of "flame-jetting," which can result when filling a firepot with pourable fuel. . Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal

Health Canada is calling on companies to stop selling certain alcohol- and ethanol-fuelled firepots, warning that the popular backyard decorations “pose a danger to human health and safety.”

The products come in a variety of designs, but all generally use a pourable container to light an open flame.

When fuel is poured on firepots and lamps that appear to be extinguished but aren’t, Health Canada says the container can ignite and combust, resulting in “a burst of flaming fuel being violently expelled.”

This fast reaction, called “flame-jetting,” has led to deaths and injuries in Canada.

Back in 2016, Judith Buys, a dentist from Peterborough, Ont., suffered catastrophic burns when an ethanol-fuelled lamp exploded while it was being refilled. She died a few days later.

Her family has since launched a $12-million negligence lawsuit against the manufacturer.

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This summer, Cindy Iannucci sustained life-altering injuries when a decorative firepot exploded while being refilled. The Scarborough, Ont., woman was suddenly “hit with a fireball” that just “shot out,” a friend told a local media outlet.

The wave of accidents prompted a warning this summer from the Ontario fire marshal, which said it has received a growing number “flame-jetting” reports since 2016.

A video outlining the dangers of the products was released as part of the warning.

Family of Dr. Judith Buys suing Brasa Fire
Family of Dr. Judith Buys suing Brasa Fire

“The impact of the injuries and fatalities are extreme on the people who are directly involved or in the area when it happens,” Jeff Tebby, a supervisor with the quality assurance and risk management unit at the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal, told the Canadian Press.

“The person who is doing the pouring is usually not the one hurt, it’s the victim in the direct path of the flame jet.”

Health Canada issued a “notice to stakeholders” this week notifying them that the product poses a danger to Canadians. Under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, no manufacturer or importer is allowed to sell or advertise a consumer product “they know is a danger.”

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According to Health Canada, there have been a dozen reports of flame-jetting incidents involving firepots and containers of pourable alcohol-based fuel in this country as of Oct. 9. Two people died and 26 others were burned.

“In many cases, the burn injuries described were severe and life-threatening or disabling,” a spokesperson for Health Canada said in a statement.

The national health agency outlined a number of safety measures for those who choose to continue using applicable fire pits, patio burners, firelights and other ethanol- or alcohol-fuelled items.

Fuel should never be poured over a flame, and users should take extra care to ensure the flame is out by using a snuffer or similar tool.

Fire Safety with Kidde
Fire Safety with Kidde

Health Canada also recommends using a flame arrester — a plastic or wire mesh that absorbs heat from a container and reduces the chance of fire travelling inside.

A full list of tips and prevention measures can be found here.

Health Canada says it has been working with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and other stakeholders to develop international safety standards.

In the U.S., a recall was issued for a pourable-fuel firepot in 2011 after dozens of incidents, two of which were fatal.

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A safety standard was released in February related to firepots. A safety standard pertaining to flame arresters is in development.

Until the overarching safety standards are settled, Health Canada says the products “should not be used in the absence of important safety features,” as outlined.

— With files from the Canadian Press