WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - One minute, Jacqueline and Renee Delgado were planning a romantic evening at home in their waterfront condominium in Palm Beach Shores. The next, Jacqueline was engulfed in flames and Renee was trying frantically to end his wife's excruciating pain.
The horrific scene that unfolded June 3 put Jacqueline in the intensive care unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. It left Renee nursing less serious burns while struggling to understand how simply lighting what is marketed as an eco-friendly gel-like fuel nearly cost his wife her life.
Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Delgados are not alone.
Two weeks after a fireball erupted on the balcony of the Delgados' condominium, the federal agency pulled it off the market, claiming it "can ignite unexpectedly and splatter onto people and objects nearby." The recall, done in cooperation with product distributor Napa Home & Garden, came after at least 23 people across the country reported sustaining serious burns while lighting the pourable gel-like fuel, the agency said.
A man in Orlando died, said attorney Greg Barnhart, who is representing the Delgados. A 14-year-old in New York, like Delgado, is in critical condition, he said.
"It's clearly a dangerous and defective product," he said.
His efforts to sue Napa were stymied when the Duluth, Ga.-based company filed for bankruptcy protection. Instead, he is suing Nevada product manufacturer Fuel Barons and Losorea Packaging Co., which packaged it. In a lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, he is also suing TJX Companies, which operates stores like Marshall's Home Goods in Wellington, where Jacqueline bought two fire pots. He is also suing Manhattan's Pharmacy in Jupiter where she bought the fuel.
Chris Vasou, owner of the Jupiter drug store, said he pulled the fuel off store shelves as soon as he learned of the recall. He said he only sold two bottles of it - one to Delgado. While frustrated that he would get sued, he said, "It's the law." None of the other companies being sued returned telephone calls for comment.
Barnhart claims the fuel is deceptively dangerous. The vapors are heavier than air so when it is poured into fire pots invisible fumes hover near the ground.
While no one is certain exactly what happened to Delgado, it appears she had lit one of the fire pots and when she lit the other one, the fumes exploded, enveloping her in flames, he said.
Further, he said, because it is a gel, it isn't easy to put out. Renee Delgado grabbed his wife and rolled on top of her, trying to extinguish the flames. Instead the gel-like fuel clung to his wife's skin and clothing and continued to burn.
Alex Filip, spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said he has heard similar stories from others. The agency pulled the product from the shelves as soon as complaints were verified. "There's no way we can get enough tax money to test every product before it goes on the market," he said. His agency is advising people to stop using the fuel immediately and return it to stores for a full refund.
Delgado's family wants to make sure others don't suffer a similar fate, Barnhart said. The mother of two sustained third-degree burns over 70 percent of her body. She was placed in a drug-induced coma and has undergone numerous surgeries and faces dozens more as doctors try to repair the widespread damage that was done.
At the request of the couple's 21-year-old daughter, he said he will ask area lawmakers to propose a bill that would ban the fuel in Florida. "It's like napalm," he said.
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