PLANO, Texas – It was a cold, wet December day when Joel Hall couldn’t get the fire going during a family camping trip.
What he did next is what experts say you should never do. He used gasoline to start the fire.
“Thankful every day that it wasn’t worse,” he said. “Could have easily been worse.”
And by worse, Joel is talking about the third-degree burns crisscrossing his lower legs and thighs. Burns he sustained after his gas can near the camp fire burst into flames.
“Unfortunately, an ember, or a leaf, or something from the fire, blew over and caught the gas on fire and sent it back to the gas can and it exploded in my hand, and the gas went on my legs, and it was instant,” he said. “It burned my pants off.”
Experts call what happened to Joel, flame jetting. It’s what happens when a gas can – or any container holding flammable fuel – turns into a virtual flamethrower.
And now a new bill introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) snaking through congress aims to cut the number of people burned by flame jetting. The Portable Fuel Container Safety Act of 2017 would require flame arrestors (think of a filter that stops a flame or spark) on portable gas containers to prevent burn injuries.
Dr. Salil Gulati, a burn specialist at Medical City Plano, said he sees this type of injury often. Injuries that can easily turn catastrophic.
“Gas actually causes some deep burns. It can go from second degree, to third degree, to sometimes even fourth-degree which means they (burns) actually involve the deeper structures such as muscles and bones,” he said. “You cannot be careful enough with fire. Gas is highly, highly flammable.”
Every year, about 14,500 Americans die from burn injuries and burn-related infections. Another 1.1 million suffer burn injuries requiring medical attention, according to Shriners Hospitals for Children.
After sustaining third degree burns on his legs, and missing two months of work, Joel said he’s learned his lesson. Before the accident, he never thought about how dangerous gas cans can be, he said.
“I had not really thought about it much. But we take extra precautions now,” he said. “I did not think a gas can could explode like that but it did.”