NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Newport News firefighters want to remind the public about the dangers of refueling ethanol fire pots after a pregnant woman was fatally injured last month.

Fire officials say the incident happened on July 24. The woman’s young daughter and husband were also burned during the refueling.

The family was roasting marshmallows using the ethanol fire pot. Investigators say the man went to refill the pot, but the pot hadn’t cooled yet. When the new fuel hit the pot, it shot back at the can, lighting the fuel in the can on fire. Then, pressure shot a fire ball across the room, hitting the man’s wife and young child and also injuring the man.

His wife, pregnant at the time, died two weeks later. The baby survived. The man and his other young child are still recovering from their wounds.

Fire officials say accidents with these pots are preventable. They want the community to know simple steps they can take to keep themselves and their families safe.

Ethanol fire pots and bowls have increased tremendously in popularity but fire officials warn they can be dangerous, even deadly.

“Fire pots and bowls have become increasingly popular since they burn clean, are portable and decorative. Unfortunately, these items can be a serious fire hazard when refueling as was in the case of a young, pregnant woman and her family,” said Newport News spokeswoman Lisa King.

Firepots and similar items can produce flame jetting when ethanol or other flammable fuels are added while the pot is still hot. Usually, the flame is hard to see.

“We extend our sincere condolences to the family on their loss. It is our hope that the community will take extra care when using ethanol fueled devices or when refueling any appliance or unit so another tragedy is prevented,” said Acting Fire Marshal Jeff Senter.

The Newport News Fire Department’s Community Risk Reduction Division shared these reminders:

  • Only refuel the unit if it is cool to the touch and has not be used for at least 30 minutes
  • Use a fuel container that has a flame arrestor (small mesh or plastic covering that covers the spout of the fuel container)
  • Keep all flammables at least 3 feet away from the device
  • Make sure it is on a sturdy surface away from children and pets

In December 2020, Congress passed a federal safety law that says all portable fuel containers must have fire arrestors to avoid accidents like the one on July 24 in Newport News.

Here’s a story on fire pots from CBC News: