As summer draws nearer, people often want to spend time outdoors and cook on the grill.  Many will purchase charcoal gel fuel to help light their grills, or other gel fuels for use in fire pits or fire pots.  However, what most people may not appreciate the hazard these gel fuel products pose.

Fuel Gel Recalls

In 2011, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) initiated several recalls involving alcohol-based gel fuel in response to almost 100 high-severity burn injuries caused by the products.  Twelve companies voluntarily recalled their pourable gel fuel products marketed for use in fire pots based on the need to resolve the safety risks inherent in the gel fuel containers.  Since then, there continue to be incidents involving ignited or exploding containers of gel fuel.

An assessment done by the CPSC Directorate for Engineering Services identified a lack of safety features in gel fuel containers, as well as several characteristics that make the product more dangerous to consumers.  For instance, the assessment found that although gel fuel is a flammable liquid, the containers are usually open-mouth plastic containers that resemble water bottles and do not have the same safety features – i.e.  ground, venting and flame arrestors – as other flammable liquid containers typically employ.

These gel fuels are labeled with phrases like “burn safe”, “eco-friendly”, “smart-start”, which, coupled with the water-bottle-like packaging, fails to effectively warn of the fire and burn risk and hazard these gel fuel products present.  Additionally, the lack of flame visibility characteristic of gel fuel creates a hidden hazard that makes it almost impossible for consumers to see the presence of a flame, especially in daylight.

Firepot Gel Fuel Recall

These same characteristics that led to a recall of firepot gel fuel in 2011 are present in natural fire starter gels and charcoal gel fuel, all of which are still on the market and all of which are capable of exploding while in use.  Pope McGlamry has seen multiple cases of children and adults severely burned when bottles of gel fuel ignite or explode, spraying the sticky burning gel over the user and those around them.  The gel sticks to skin and clothing (as well as furniture and decking), and cannot easily be extinguished with water or the traditional “stop, drop and roll” method.  Instead, putting out a gel fuel fire requires a chemical fire extinguisher or a large amount of baking soda, neither of which many people may have on hand.  Although close access to a pool or other large body of water can also help extinguish a fire, safety experts say that running while on fire can cause more severe burns- all of which makes gel fuel even more dangerous.