Occupational Health & Safety

Two Hurt in Lava Lamp Lunacy

The London Fire Brigade warns residents of the capital not to make lava lamps -– at least, not in the way used by two people who were injured March 23.

Making a lava lamp at home is possible, but doing it wrong can be fatal, the London Fire Brigade warned this week. Its warning followed a March 23 incident in east London where firefighters responded to a reported explosion and fire at a flat and found a man and a woman outside with burns on their hands.

The firefighters entered and discovered they had been attempting to make their own lava lamps by melting paraffin wax candles in a cooking pan on the stove. The brigade's fire investigators were called to the scene to determine what caused the fire and explosion.

"We believe the pan of melting wax was left unattended and caught fire. The melting wax released paraffin vapours into the flat which were then ignited by the burning wax, causing an explosion," said Guy Foster, who heads the brigade's Fire Investigation Unit. The explosion blew a window frame and a large number of bricks out of the ground-floor flat.

"My advice is simple: Don't try this at home," said Bruce Epsly, the brigade's borough commander for Tower Hamlets, where the fire took place. "And if you're using pans on the [stove], never, ever leave them unattended as the results can be catastrophic. These people were lucky not to have been seriously injured or even killed. Unfortunately, thousands of people are seriously hurt in kitchen fires caused by unattended pans each year."

The two victims were treated at the scene for minor burns by London Ambulance Service personnel. "Unfortunately, homemade lava lamp recipes can be found all too easily on the internet," said the brigade's news release. "London Fire Brigade's fire safety experts warn strongly against making lava lamps as it poses a serious fire risk."

It mentions a 2004 fatality in the United States: A 24-year-old man in Kent, Wash., died while trying to heat a lava lamp on his kitchen stove while closely observing it. The lamp exploded, spraying shards of glass with enough force to pierce his chest, with one shard piercing his heart, it states. This scenario later was tested and confirmed by the Discovery Channel show "Mythbusters."

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