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Nebraska Medical Center Burn Center Urges Caution with “Fire Lights”

Six people have been injured in the last week after incidents with fire lights, also known as fire pots. The fire lights are ceramic pots which use a flammable gel as fuel. They are often used on decks and patios.

Rob McCutcheon was relaxing with his family on the deck of their Omaha home June 3. One of the two fire lights on their deck had stopped burning. He grabbed the fuel bottle to add more.

“It was a flash,” McCutcheon said. “The next thing I knew there was fire everywhere. The bottle was like a flame thrower.”

The bottle flew out of McCutcheon’s hand and sprayed the fuel across the deck; and on to his wife, her sister and on his nine year old daughter Holly.

“They were on fire, the furniture was on fire, the deck was on fire,” McCutcheon recalled.

He grabbed Holly and rolled her on to the ground to put out the flames. In the process, he was burned as well. McCutcheon’s other daughter grabbed a fire extinguisher to put out the flames still burning on the deck.

Holly spent the night in The Nebraska Medical Center’s burn center. Her mother and aunt were in the hospital for several hours. A week later, the family is still wearing protective bandages.

“We never did find the bottle,” said McCutcheon. “We looked everywhere for it, but it was gone.”

Three days later, the Torring family of Omaha experienced a very similar injury.

“The flame had seemingly burned out,” said Todd Torring. “My 13 year old son went to re-fill the gel and there must have still been a flame burning.”

The flame ignited the fuel gel. The flaming gel sprayed on to ten-year-old Emily Torring. Her hair caught fire.

“She did exactly what she was supposed to do – stop, drop and roll,” her father said.

Her burns were bad enough to land her in the hospital. She too spent a night in the burn center.

“The gel is like thick gasoline. But because it’s a gel, it acts like a liquid and sprays downward when ignited,” said Debra Reilly, MD, medical director of the burn center at The Nebraska Medical Center. “The burns have been in a wide splash pattern, meaning there are multiple areas of the body which have been injured on the same patient. The gel then drips and stays on fire; burning the skin as it drips downward. This worsens the extent of the burn injury.”

“Healing from a burn takes time - up to two weeks,” Dr. Reilly said. “Burns always leave some type of scar. It can be a color change to the skin or occasionally a raised scar that can be seen as well as felt.”

If a fire like this occurs, Dr. Reilly said the “stop, drop and roll” method is effective in putting it out quickly. She said if pain persists, or if a person develops a blister larger than the palm of their hand, they should get medical help.

Even if medical help is not needed, a burn still requires care.

“Use a topical over the counter antibiotic under a dressing (such as a Band-Aid for small areas) and wash the burn daily to keep it clean until it heals,” Dr. Reilly said.

The McCutcheon family, still recovering from their burns, wants other families to be extremely cautious with fire lights. They encourage anyone who plans to use one to read the detailed warnings on the manufacturer’s website before lighting the fire.

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