NSW has joined Western Australia in banning portable ethanol burners after a 28-year-old Perth woman was badly burned by a faulty burner. Picture: Consumer Protection WA
NSW has joined Western Australia in banning portable ethanol burners after a 28-year-old Perth woman was badly burned by a faulty burner. Picture: Consumer Protection WA

'I urge consumers to stop using these products immediately'

WARNING: Graphic

EMMA Francis knows her life will never go back to the way it was just 12 months ago.

A successful and sociable real estate agent with a plan to one day travel the world, the 28-year-old now spends her days in and out of hospital appointments, and dressing horrific burns to more than 20 per cent of her body.

In October last year, while visiting a friend's house near Perth in Western Australia, Ms Francis was engulfed by a fireball.

The accident was the result of a tabletop ethanol burner - a device the size of a tissue box used for decorative purposes.

Ms Francis was deep in conversation as her friend lit the ethanol burner for the first time that day. Within seconds, a ball of flames hurtled towards her, striking her in the chest as she sat more than a metre away.

"This fireball came out the side of the burner and hit me," she told news.com.au.

"Because it was fuel, it wasn't going out. I looked down and said, 'oh sh*t, I'm on fire'".

Desperately trying to extinguish the flames, Ms Francis tried to take off her jacket before a friend spear tackled her to the ground to stop the rapidly growing fire.

"My friends started screaming ... and tapping me [to put out the flames]," she explained.

"It was complete chaos."

Ms Francis said a garden hose finally extinguished the flames, but the damage to her hands, arms, chest and face was already done.

"I just felt dread in my stomach," she said.

"I thought, 'Oh my god, my life is over'. I wasn't aware of the extent of my injuries ... but my friends said the skin on my arms, face and hands was bubbling. I tried to sit up, and the skin on my face just slid off.

"I didn't think I would die, but I just kept thinking my face and body is ruined forever."

Ethanol burners have been banned in four Australian states, including Victoria. Picture: AAP/Western Australia GovernmentSource:Herald Sun
Ethanol burners have been banned in four Australian states, including Victoria. Picture: AAP/Western Australia GovernmentSource:Herald Sun

 

Once ambulance officers arrived and administered pain killers, Ms Francis was taken to Fiona Stanley Hospital where she was placed in an induced coma, treated in the Intensive Care Unit and later underwent plastic surgery to address the more than 20 per cent of burns to her body.

"Before I reached the ambulance, the pain started to set in, particularly in my hands," she explained.

"I couldn't feel it on my face and chest, because my nerves had been burnt out, but my hands were an excruciating stinging sensation."

The burns extended from second degree injuries across her face, to third degree on her neck, chest, arms and hands.

Spending three weeks in ICU after the accident, followed by another three in the burns ward - Ms Francis said the recovery period didn't slow down after she was released from hospital.

"It's not a matter of getting wounds dressed and sitting around," she said.

"I kept getting told that my time in hospital is the honeymoon period. I didn't know what that meant until I got home, and the reality set in.

"My life is out the window. It's been a rollercoaster. I don't think anyone really realises how devastating it really is."

This month, the Federal Government introduced a new safety standard for decorative ethanol burners following a spate of incidents across the country since 2010.

Small Business Minister Michael McCormack said he'd introduced safety standards for tabletop burners following advice from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to prevent the risk of further injuries and deaths.

"Decorative burners have caused more than 100 injuries and at least 36 house fires across Australia since 2010. There have also been at least three deaths that occurred overseas," Mr McCormack said in a statement.

"Table Top burners which are designed to sit on a table are most commonly involved in these incidents and I urge consumers to stop using these products immediately.

Small Business Minister Michael McCormack introduced new safety standards for decorative ethanol burners following a spate of incidents across the country.Source:News Corp Australia
Small Business Minister Michael McCormack introduced new safety standards for decorative ethanol burners following a spate of incidents across the country.Source:News Corp Australia

 

"Many of these products allow the user to refuel the device in the same opening as the burner. The flame is often hard to see and injuries commonly occur when consumers refuel the device when it is still lit or warm.

"This can cause a flash flame and the fuel bottle to explode. There is also a risk of the burner being knocked over, especially by children or pets, potentially causing serious burns and damage to property."

Lawyer Karina Hafford from Slater & Gordon - who is currently working with Ms Francis to seek compensation from the burner manufacturer for her injuries - said the ban is a step in the right direction for protecting others from a similar fate.

"Australians should feel safe knowing the products they buy are completely safe," Ms Hafford said.

Nine months following her "horror story", Ms Francis said the "preventable incident" had changed her mental and physical state forever.

"I feel like my identity has been taken away from me," she said.

"No work life, no social life. Having to wear the mask and compression garments 23 hours every day, 7 days a week for 12 - 18 months.

"Every set of eyes turns and looks at you. I definitely don't have the confidence to go to dinner with friends."

Ms Francis said she hopes to one day return to her profession in real estate, but in her current state - the idea of communicating with strangers makes her "anxious".

"Going in to public has been the most devastating to my mental health," she said.

Emma was a successful real estate agent in Perth before the accident, but the thought of going back to her profession makes her feel “anxious”.Source:Supplied
Emma was a successful real estate agent in Perth before the accident, but the thought of going back to her profession makes her feel “anxious”.Source:Supplied

 

"It feels like groundhog day and like it will never end.

"I love real estate I love customer service aspect of it, but at this stage the thought of retuning back to that line of work makes me anxious.

"I don't know how my injuries will effect how people perceive me, and how I will have the confidence to communicate without being mindful of my scars."

Ms Francis hopes her story will encourage others to avoid using the burners.

"I'm really angry and upset, especially given how many incidents happened prior to mine," she said.

"There's only so much family and friends can do. It's quite a lonely position to be in.

"What happened to me was preventable. One incident like mine is too many."

News Corp Australia


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