Hertfordshire Woman Left With Severe Burns After Table Top Gel Burner Explodes


Burns Victim Calls For Better Warning Label On Bio Fuel Packaging

The Law Of... knowing the risks

An Hertfordshire woman left with severe burns and a life changing injury after a decorative table top burner exploded has called for warning labels to be added to fuel packaging.

Burns Victim Calls For Better Warning Label On Bio Fuel Packaging

An Extreme Fire Hazard

It was a regular Sunday evening with friends, but for Suzanne Hughes who lives in Bushey, Hertfordshire, her evening of enjoyment was cut short when a decorative table top burner exploded – leaving her with horrific injuries.

Within seconds of the explosion, Suzanne's lower body was doused with an extremely flammable bio-ethanol gel, covering her abdomen and legs in a blue flame that was almost impossible to put out. It took her husband and friends several minutes to stop the flames from spreading, and left Suzanne with painful burns and life-changing scars.

But how did a readily available piece of garden furniture become a dangerous hazard in an instant?

For many, the use of bio-ethanol gel is a relatively cheap way to get an attractive looking flame for modern pieces of garden furniture. The gel in question -'La Hacienda' - that fuelled the burner, remains for sale online.

If gel burners are not completely cold before refuelling, the addition of more gel can cause a reaction, which happened in Suzanne's case. The hot liquid gel which burns at temperatures approaching 900 degrees exploded out of the burner and onto her lap.

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue service has dealt with a number of accidents caused by this gel, including a fatality after a woman died at her Uttoxeter home in a fire caused by a heating appliance that used bio ethanol fuel.

Rather than putting out burning ethanol gel with water, dry powder-type fire extinguishers are known to be more effective. Sadly, few people will actually have one of those in their homes and to hand in an emergency.

Suzanne Hughes who is in her 50s and works as a PA for an Infrastructure Recruitment company, comments:

"The incident happened so quickly. The instructions said the burner needed to be cool, so we thought it would be completely fine as it had been unlit for some time. This clearly wasn't correct - my friend was refilling the burner, and upon lighting it, it began to spit the gel out. The gel exploded, shot across the table and landed in my lap."

"I jumped up from the table but as I did, the flaming gel ran down my legs and stuck to them. As I tried to put it out it also set fire to right hand. My husband and friends tried to put it out and it set fire to my husband's hand and arm. It only finally went out when I ran and threw myself on the grass and they rolled me over and over. I was left with incredibly painful burns and scarring on my legs and abdomen."

"What began as a relaxed Sunday evening with friends has turned into a horrific two year ordeal – and the effects of the incident still haunt me today. Sadly, I am not the only person who has been injured by bio-ethanol gel which is available to buy in many retailers up and down the country."

Unexpected Injuries

Suzanne's burns covered a shocking 28% of her body. Aside from the immediate, intense pain and scarring, she has since undergone a series of revisionary surgical procedures, including:

  • 7 extensive skin grafts to burns areas on both legs and stomach
  • 3 further operations to revise the scarring on both legs and stomach
  • A series of dermabrasion and laser treatment

Suzanne still suffers from the psychological effects of the incident, and has undergone counselling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help her come to terms with the severe scarring on her legs.

Similar incidents in the US have led to manufacturers recalling their products and consumers being warned to dispose of any lamps and gel they might have on their shelves. But not so in the UK.

Suzanne continued: "I contacted Trading Standards at the time and was told that there are currently no safety standards regarding bio ethanol usage in the UK. An investigation was carried out with the manufacturer which resulting in the incident being deemed due to user error, although it was agreed that the instructions were ambiguous. The instructions are clearly inadequate as we now know that the burner needed to be completely cold, and not just cool as was stated on the packaging."

"There needs to be much clearer instructions on this type of burner and gel. This has been a truly horrendous period in my life; I've been left with permanent physical and psychological scars which I am only just starting to come to terms with."

Head of Serious Personal Injury at Simpson Millar, Claire Roantree, is handling Suzanne's personal injury claim. She is concerned that clearer warning labels haven't yet been added to the packaging of these table top burners.

Claire says: "Suzanne's case highlights just how dangerous these gel burners can be. The instructions for how to use such highly flammable products should be clear as day, yet they are both vague and ambiguous which puts users at great risk of injury."

"Suzanne is still undergoing treatment for what happened to her two years ago, and will be dealing with the consequences of the poor instructions provided for the rest of her life."

"We need far greater awareness of the hazards of bio-ethanol fuel; the average user who buys these simply doesn't appreciate the risks. The instructions for how to use these potentially fatal flammables need to be clearer and stricter. Otherwise, I worry that Suzanne won't be the last person to suffer."

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