BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s a phenomenon that turns everyday items into dangerous, even deadly, flamethrowers. It’s called “flame jetting.”
Each year, more than 4,000 people are badly burned when flames from commonly used items suddenly explode, shooting fire several feet through the air.
It can happen with flammable liquids, like the gasoline you use for your lawnmower, fireplace fuels, and even liquor.
When the containers get near an open flame, the fumes can ignite, engulfing everything in their path. It happened to Baltimore County native Aubrey Clark.
“It was like a fire-breathing dragon or like a flamethrower,” she says.
In 2011, Aubrey was just 17, at a party with friends. When one got close to an outdoor fire with a gasoline can.
Aubrey was more than 10 feet away, but flames enveloped her, burning a third of her body. Tonia Clark described for WJZ her daughter’s devastating injuries.
“Her chest, neck, face, her arms, her hands — were all burned,” Tonia said.
As a mother who nearly lost her child to flame jetting, Tonia is not alone.
Margrett Lewis’s daughter was also severely burned. She and her twin sister were roasting marshmallows at the time.
“The fire had gone out after about 20 minutes and they went to refuel it … when I heard the screaming and ran outside, I saw my daughter on fire like a log.”
Margrett and Tonia tell WJZ, nearly 4,000 people are burned and 450 die every year in the U.S. from common household products that explode and unexpectedly shoot fire through the air, sometimes five, 10 or 15 feet.
“We need action,” Tonia says.
And they’re taking their fight to Washington. A new bill introduced by California Congressman Mike Thompson, and backed by Maryland Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, would require manufacturers to put metal or plastic screens on flammable liquid containers.
They’re known as flame arrestors, which block the fumes from escaping.
“All we’re trying to do is protect people from the gas vapors that come out and ignite, and all of a sudden, it causes a lot of damage to human beings,” says Congressman Ruppersberger.
“We’re not warning consumers — be careful, you have a very dangerous product — if somebody tips or pours it — it can explode,” Margrett says. “We want these defective products to be made usable. It shouldn’t be a bomb. If we put the protective barrier, the safety guard back at the opening — 100 percent of the time, they’re safe to use. Who would sell a product that becomes a flamethrower or a bomb?”
Congressman Ruppersberger tells WJZ a national safety campaign warning people of these dangers is in the works.
The Portable Fuel Manufacturer’s Association released a statement saying that fuel arrestor designs in the past “failed and, in many cases, caused additional safety issues,” but that they support Thompson’s legislation and will adopt standards put forth.