Napalm in your backyard?

Napalm is a gel-like incendiary agent that has been used in warfare weapons for decades.  What makes napalm different from any other firebomb type incendiary agent such as gasoline?   The gel clings to what ever it touches, creating a large burning area around the target, thereby decreasing the need for accuracy.  Doesn’t this sound like a perfectly safe type of fuel to use in adding ambience to your backyard?  Well, it wasn’t napalm, but an Alabama man has sued, alleging he suffered severe burns when his girlfriend poured gel fuel into a fire pot which ignited and hit his neck, chest, and face.

In his lawsuit, the plaintiff claims the fuel gel and fuel pot were defective, unreasonably dangerous, and carried “an extremely high risk of combustion” with potential for serious injury.  According to the complaint, in May of 2011, the plaintiff was using a fire pot “as instructed” along with several family members and his girlfriend.  When his girlfriend saw the flame had been extinguished, she added more fuel gel, which caused a “flash fire explosion” that “bathed” the plaintiff with the fiery substance.  His family attempted to douse the flames with water, but the plaintiff still suffered severe burns and had to be airlifted to the University of Alabama Birmingham burn center.

In September of 2011, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a voluntary recall of gel fuels by several manufacturers, including Bird Brain, Inc., which was named in this lawsuit.  The real problem with the gel fuels is not that it can combust when poured onto a lit flame.  That could happen with any incendiary agent.  Instead, the problem lies in the fact that the flame can be difficult to see and vapors from inside the gel container can be ignited by the flame. This can, in turn, cause an explosion, and the effects are compounded by the fact that the burning gel sticks to the skin and can be difficult to extinguish with water.

Frankly, this suit may not bode well for the defendants.  Then again, it’s certainly early in the game, and we’ve only got one side of the story.  If this one goes to trial, we’d expect there will be a bit quibbling over whether the term “napalm like substance” is objectionable and whether this video from the Consumer Product Safety Commission is admissible.

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