Flame jetting is a phenomenon that occurs when flammable liquids, like gasoline or rubbing alcohol, are poured from a container and ignite causing a jet of flame, something like a flame thrower. Flames from flame jetting gas cans can spew to distances of 15 feet. The injuries caused by flame jetting can be catastrophic. Every year more than 4,000 people are badly burned and 450 are killed by flame jetting. Tragically, instances of flame jetting can occur in your own back yard with the gas can you use to fill your lawnmower.
In 2011, a Baltimore County teenager was severely burned by a flame jet. She was standing ten feet away from a backyard fire pit when another teen standing directly across from her poured gasoline from a gas can onto the fire. The resulting flame jet shot across the fire pit engulfing the young woman in flames and leaving her scarred for life.
In 2014, the lives of a California family were changed forever when a fun night of roasting marshmallows turned into a nightmare. Two twin sisters and two of their friends were about to roast marshmallows and make s’mores in a portable, ventless bio-ethanol fireplace when the fire seemed to go out. When the girls went to refuel, the bottle of ethanol based fuel ignited, spraying flames on one of the twins and engulfing her in fire. The 16-year-old was burned from head to toe and had to undergo dozens of skin grafts and surgeries.
Flame jetting incidents often occur in much more controlled settings, as well. In 2013, a Georgia high school student suffered severe burns that left permanent and painful scars on her hands, arms, chest, back, and neck when her science teacher became distracted while conducting the “Rainbow Experiment.” The experiment is performed by igniting different chemicals which can then be identified by the color of the flame they emit when they burn. In this instance, the teacher was pouring methanol from a four liter jug onto an open flame. The ensuing flame jet engulfed a student assisting with the experiment in a fireball. The student received $1.5 million in damages for her injuries.
Three New York high school students suffered second and third degree burns in 2014 when their tenth-grade science teacher attempted to perform the “Rainbow Experiment” and caused a flame jet in the process. When the teacher poured highly flammable methyl alcohol out of a gallon container, the ensuing fireball horribly burned three students, leading to lawsuits seeking $37 million in damages. The teacher did not provide the students with any protective gear prior to the risky experiment.
In May 2015, three students in a Florida high school were injured when an AP chemistry teacher performed a flame test experiment. Although the experiment was performed under a lab hood, the conditions were sufficient to cause a flash fire that sent two students to the hospital with severe burns.
Five students and a teacher were burned in a Virginia high school in October 2015 when the teacher was demonstrating an experiment involving alcohol and an open flame. When the flammable methanol the teacher was using ignited, it flashed back into the container and blew out toward the students. Two of the students had to be airlifted to area hospitals, where one was received in critical condition, requiring surgery.
Flame jetting injuries are preventable.
Flame jetting injuries are preventable. Simple safety devices called flame arresters placed in the neck or mouth of containers carrying flammable liquids would help to prevent flame jetting. Flame arrestors are filters that prevent flame combustion and significantly reduce the risk of flame jetting injuries. Warning labels informing people using these containers about the dangers of flame jetting would also go a long way to prevent flame jetting injuries and deaths.
Thankfully, some of our legislators are working to protect people from the deadly phenomenon. In 2017, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) introduced the Portable Fuel Container Safety Act of 2017. The Act would require flame mitigation devices to be used on portable fuel containers for flammable liquid fuels. This is sensible bipartisan legislation created with consumer product safety in mind. The Act will undoubtedly prevent unnecessary deaths and severe injuries caused by flame jetting each year. We must now do more than simply hope the bill passes. We must actively voice our support for the bill (H.R. 919) by calling and writing our representatives in Congress.