Gas Fireplaces are Inviting But Present Danger

Updated: 11/19/2012 7:27 AM KSTP.com By: Beth McDonough

On a cold night, many Minnesotans enjoy our gas fireplaces.  But some may not know about the possible danger in a warm, flickering flame.

A mom and dad from Little Canada shared their daughter's story with 5 Eyewitness News for the sake of their family and yours.

Lila Stephens was just about 1 year old when she suffered severe burns to her little hands.  Both hands were in casts for months after she touched a gas fireplace at a resort in Wisconsin Dells. Lila was attracted to the orange flames flickering behind a glass pane at eye level.  Her dad was in the room, but wasn't quick enough to stop Lila.

After two skin grafts and more surgeries, Lila's hands have healed, but they are scarred.  And her parents fears about gas fireplaces are still raw more than a year later.

Fred Stephens says, "it's shocking how little people know about the dangers of the gas fireplace".

St. Paul Firefighter Jamie Novak tested a gas fireplace for us to see how hot, how quickly they get.  After 15 minutes the temperature of the glass jumped 100-degrees.  After a half-hour, the temperature reached 300-plus degree's.  That's more than hot enough to burn skin in one second.

Dr. George Peltier treats about 15 children a year at Hennepin County Medical Center for burns caused by hot gas fireplaces.  Nationwide, 200 children burn themselves on gas fireplaces every year.  He calls it a preventable problem.

Dana Stephens, Lila's mom, says that's alarming and she wants the industry to make a change.  The Stephens sued over their daughter's burns.  The case was settled out of court last month. 

As a result of lawsuits, the gas fireplace industry will make protective screens like this required equipment on all new gas 

fireplaces, but not for more than two years from now, in January 2015.

Dr. Peltier believes it's a necessary start to get this problem under control.  Especially, since the gas fireplace industry regulates itself, with no federal or state oversight.  Some, like Senator Al Franken think that's a problem.  He urged the Consumer Product Safety Commission to step in to help reduce the risk of burns.

The Stephens believe safety screens are a start, but they want more done.  Dana Stephens told us, " 2,000 kids have sustained serious burns on these over the last 10 years and you would think that would be enough.  So, I don't know what it's going to take, but we'll keep fighting for it."

Doctors recommend a safety screen for families with a gas fireplace.  You can buy one at a local shop for roughly $200.   The Stephens recently moved into a new house with a gas fireplace.  They bought a screen and they have a lock on the switch so kids can't play with it.