Panel looking at firepot that burned teen

Michael Hubbard, 14, of Riverhead remains in critical Michael Hubbard, 14, of Riverhead remains in critical condition at Stony Brook Hospital's Pediatric ICU after FireGel citronella fuel exploded at a family gathering May 28. Photo Credit: Handout

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For the past 15 days -- since her son suffered severe burns from the explosion of a gel-fueled firepot -- Nancy Reyer has been sleeping by his hospital bedside.

On Thursday, as she stepped away for a moment, she heard a code blue called. Michael Hubbard was in cardiac arrest for 13 minutes before doctors revived him, his mother recalled.

If the 14-year-old boy had been ready then "to go up with the angels," Reyer said, she was ready, too. But he wasn't, and Sunday, she said, she was newly hopeful.

"He stayed and he's fighting," the Riverhead woman said from Stony Brook Medical Center's pediatric intensive care unit. "Once I told him I could let him go, I feel like God took that burden off me."

Michael was scorched May 28 by fuel gel that exploded from a wickless ceramic firepot lit by his cousin. As he remains in an induced coma -- with third-degree burns across his body -- his plight is bringing scrutiny to a product widely sold at home and garden stores.

The national Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating the product, and had already logged eight complaints of explosions or burns involving firepots or fuel gels since April 2010, a spokesman confirmed yesterday.

On June 3, a 24-year-old Manhattan man was badly burned when he went to refuel one of the pots on his terrace.

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The Napa FireLite, using pourable citronella gel fuel, has been pulled from shelves of at least one retailer, Bed, Bath & Beyond, published reports said.

"These [products] seem to be fairly new," said National Fire Prevention Association spokeswoman Lorraine Carli, adding that statistics on their safety haven't been compiled. "But just in general, anytime you have a product you're lighting, you have to be very careful."

"It's explosive," Michael Hubbard's aunt, Fran Johnson, said of the fuel gel.

Georgia-based Napa Home & Garden Inc., which produces the pots and packages the fuel, declined to comment. Reached Sunday, company president Jerry Cunningham said he'd issue a statement last week.

In a published report Saturday, he said his company would remove prominent "safe" labels on fuel gel bottles. Those, he said, referenced the gel (manufactured by another company) being eco-friendly.

Napa Home & Garden's Web site contains prominent safety warnings, such as not adding fuel when the pot is hot and keeping it away from children.

FireLite burners can be purchased from numerous major websites.

Reyer wants the products permanently taken off the market. But Sunday, her priority was the health of her 6-foot, 250- pound boy, described as always smiling, with a love for bowling.

She's taken a leave from her new job at East End Disability Associates, and sleeps each night in the makeshift bed in the ICU room, by her son's side.

"The nurses tease me that he's too long for the bed," she said. "I tell them that he hasn't even reached puberty yet!"

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