Health Canada advises industry to stop selling certain firepots that use pourable fuels

Health Canada is asking the industry to stop selling firepots and table-top burners that use pourable alcohol-based fuels, following a string of deadly accidents that sparked calls from doctors and victims’ families to ban the popular outdoor products.

Health Canada said it has issued a “Notice to Stakeholders” that some pourable alcohol-based containers and burners “pose a danger to human health or safety” under the Consumer Product Safety Act.

The notice also warned users not to operate the devices without specific safety measures, including making sure the flame is fully extinguished and the container has cooled completely before refuelling. Flames can sometimes be difficult to detect under certain lighting conditions and when a low amount of fuel is left in the firepot, so Health Canada advises using a snuffer or a similar tool.

The agency also advised to never pour fuel over a flame and to always use a flame arrestor when refuelling the containers. A flame arrestor is a screen-like device built into the opening of the pot. It also suggested that non-refillable fuel canisters were safer alternatives to liquid-based fuels like ethanol.

Users should always make sure the burners are on a stable and level surface, placed at a safe distance from people and anything flammable, and that the fuel itself is always tightly capped and safely stored away.

A series of devastating accidents over the summer put the spotlight on the decorative table-top burners. Meanwhile, the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook has seen a notable increase in the number of patients admitted for ethanol burns, according to the centre’s director, Dr. Marc Jeschke.

Earlier, Ontario Fire Marshall released a video demonstrating why the pots can be dangerous. The video showed how “flame-jetting” — a large burst of fire that shoots out like an enormous blow torch — can occur. 

It is unexpected and can happen in a fraction of a second, making it impossible for the user or anyone else nearby to escape. The inferno blast occurs during refuelling when the flame appears extinguished but is actually still burning, or when the container is still hot. Vapours around the fuel being poured ignite suddenly and follows the stream into the pot, which can then result in a fiery blast coming out.

It was this flame-jetting, that killed Toronto pediatrician Michelle McLauchlin, Peterborough dentist Judith Buys, and severely injured Cindy Iannucci.

In 2017, Australia issued an outright national ban on firepots that do not meet specific weight, size, and stability requirements following more than 100 injuries since 2010.

In the U.S., a recall in 2011 noticeably drove down the number of reported injuries, according to a December 2016 memo from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Health Canada said it has been collaborating with the U.S. agency and other stakeholders to develop safety standards. A safety standard for firepots was published earlier this year, while another one focused on flame arrestors is currently being developed.

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