Decorative alcohol fuelled devices

Decorative alcohol fuelled devices are designed for domestic use. They produce a flame using alcohol as fuel. While used for decoration, larger models also may provide heating. Make sure you buy a device that meets the mandatory safety standard.

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. They are stationary and stand on the floor or are placed against a wall, or in a prominent position as a feature
  • fixed devices – installed in a fixed position (usually wall-mounted or recessed), often referred to as ‘fireplaces’.

Risks and injuries

Decorative alcohol fuelled devices have caused serious burn injuries to consumers. Injuries include burns requiring intensive care, skin grafts, lengthy hospital stays and physiotherapy. Decorative alcohol fuelled devices have also caused house fires.

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

Table top devices are particularly dangerous because:

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

Video: Don't fuel the fire

Buying requirements

Make sure you confirm with the retailer that the decorative alcohol fuelled device you wish to purchase complies with the mandatory safety standard.

Devices must comply with the following requirements:

  1. be a permanent fixture or have a dry weight of at least 8 kilograms and a footprint of at least 900 square centimetres
  2. meet the stability test set out in the European standard
  3. come with a fuel container with a flame arrester or an automatic fuel pump system
  4. have the prescribed warning.

Safe use

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

The fuel

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

Fuelling and refuelling

  • Extinguish flames completely and check the device is cool before refilling. This will prevent fuel exploding and causing severe burns or property damage.
  • Remove the fuel tank from the device before refilling.
  • Only use the recommended fuel for the device. 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 matches or cigarette lighters may burn your skin or clothing.

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).