Decorative alcohol fuelled devices

Published: 
10 Jul 2017

Decorative alcohol fuelled devices are designed for domestic use and produce a flame using alcohol as fuel. The devices are primarily used for decoration although larger models also may provide heating.

About decorative alcohol fuelled devices

There are three common types of decorative alcohol fuelled devices:

  • table top devices – small, inexpensive devices designed to sit on a table.
  • freestanding devices – larger, heavier and generally more expensive than table top devices. While most are portable, they are not intended to be moved around and are likely to stand on the floor or be placed against a wall or in a prominent position as a feature.
  • fixed devices – require installation in a fixed position (usually wall-mounted or recessed), often referred to as ‘fireplaces’.

Risks and injuries

Decorative alcohol fuelled devices, particularly table top devices, have caused serious burn injuries to consumers - ranging in age from newborn babies to pensioners. These injuries include second and third degree burns requiring intensive care, skin grafts, operations, lengthy hospital stays and physiotherapy. Decorative alcohol fuelled devices have also been associated with causing a number of house fires.

Many injuries occur when the device is being refilled with fuel. People can unknowingly refill the fuel vessel while the flame is still alight (an ethanol flame is not always visible or clear) or the fuel vessel is still very hot. This can result in ethanol vapour igniting on contact with the exposed flame or hot fuel vessel, causing a flash flame or uncontrolled fire.

Table top devices are particularly dangerous because:

  • the fuel-filling point is also where the flame is ignited thereby increasing the risk of a flash flame
  • the devices typically have a short burn time due to their limited fuel capacity. This means more frequent refilling during the course of a single use period, which may lead to refilling while the fuel vessel is still lit or hot
  • the devices are less stable so are more likely to be knocked over

Video: Don't fuel the fire

Safety tips

If you have a table top decorative alcohol fuelled device, we recommend you stop using it immediately. If you have a fixed or freestanding alcohol fuelled device, take extreme care when refuelling. Only use a fuel container with a flame arrester or an automatic fuel pump, and follow the safety instructions for the device.

The fuel

Decorative alcohol fuelled devices typically use ethanol in a liquid form or (less commonly) gel form. The most common form is methylated spirits (ethanol and around 10% methanol) which may also be marketed as bio-ethanol or eco-fuel.

Fuelling & refuelling

  • Check the flames have been extinguished and the device is cool before refilling to prevent fuel exploding causing severe burns and property damage.
  • Remove the fuel tank from the device before refilling.
  • Only use the recommended fuel for the device and when refilling only use containers with a flame arrester or use an automatic fuel pump. Be aware that flames can be difficult to see, particularly under sunlight or in bright environments. This can lead you to think that the flame has gone out.
  • Clean up spills immediately, as pooled vapours may explode when the device is relit.

Lighting the device

Use the lighting tool that comes with the device as it should be long enough to safely light the fuel tank. Alternatively, use a BBQ lighter (or similar device) to remain at a safe distance when lighting the flame. Lighting the fuel tank with smaller devices (such as matches or cigarette lighters) may cause skin or clothing to be burned.

Extinguishing the device

Use the extinguishing tool that comes with the device. Make sure you extinguish all flames when leaving the room and before going to sleep. Never extinguish the flame with water as this may cause the flames to spread.

In case of fire – what to do

Use a powder extinguisher or a fire blanket to smother the fire. If you do not have one, use dirt or sand instead.

If you cannot control the fire, move away from it and contact your fire emergency service (in Australia, dial 000).

Frequently asked questions

Q. Why has the Minister made a safety standard for decorative alcohol fuelled devices?

A. Since 2010, there have been at least 113 reported incidents in Australia involving decorative alcohol fuelled devices. These incidents are associated with 105 injuries and 36 house fires.

Injuries include second or third degree burns requiring intensive care, skin grafts, operations, lengthy hospital stays and physiotherapy. Many of these injuries occurred when the device was being refilled with ethanol fuel (or had just been refilled).

The Minister has made a safety standard because he considers that it is reasonably necessary to prevent or reduce serious burn injuries and property damage by removing table top devices from the market, and requiring fixed and freestanding devices to be supplied with warnings and a fuel container with flame arrester (or an automatic fuel pump).

Q. Can I still supply decorative alcohol fuelled devices?

A. Businesses can supply decorative alcohol fuelled devices provided they comply with the safety standard.  All suppliers in the supply chain are responsible for ensuring products they supply comply with the safety standard.

Q. What should I do if I have a table top device?

A. We recommend you stop using it immediately.

Q. What about decorative alcohol fuelled devices supplied before the imposition of the state, territory or national interim ban?

A. There are particular safety risks in some of the devices supplied prior to the imposition of state, territory or the national interim ban. Those safety risks include devices where the fuel-filling point is also where the flame is ignited (this is particularly characteristic of table top devices); which are lightweight or unstable; supplied with fuel containers without a flame arrester; or do not display warnings about refuelling the device while lit.  

If you have supplied devices that are unsafe for consumers, the ACCC expects you to take action to minimise the risk of serious injury or death, by undertaking a voluntary recall of unsafe devices previously supplied. Guidance for how to conduct a recall is provided at Conducting a recall.

Information for suppliers

Mandatory standard for decorative alcohol fuelled devices

Product category