The manufacturer of the recalled “Fire Gel” candles, blamed in accidents that critically injured at least two dozen people, including a 14-year-old Riverhead boy, and claimed the life of a California woman this month, has filed for bankruptcy.

Facing lawsuits from dozens of people burned in accidents similar to the one that left Michael Hubbard with third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body, Napa Home & Garden Inc. of Duluth, Ga., the maker of “Fire Burners” ceramic gel pots and “Fire Gel” fuel, filed a bankruptcy petition earlier this month, seeking protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Napa has had “significant operating difficulties” since accidents involving the products became known, according to documents filed in the U.S Bankruptcy Court in Atlanta. Anticipating the accidents will “result in huge litigation expenses and massive customer returns, [Napa] cannot expect to operate for much longer,” court documents state. The company said it expects as many as 70 lawsuits in connection with accidents involving its products.

The bankruptcy proceeding puts all litigation against Napa on hold, at least temporarily. {sidebar id=35}

The Consumer Product Safety Commission on June 22 issued a nationwide recall of Napa’s Fire Burners ceramic pots and Fire Gel fuel, requiring them to be pulled from retail shelves and warning consumers not to use them. More than 460,000 bottles of the the ethanol fuel product had been sold between Dec. 2009 and the June recall, according to the federal agency. The products were sold at Bed Bath & Beyond, Restoration Hardware, and home and garden shops across the country, as well as through Amazon.com.

Napa Home and Garden is seeking to sell the company and its assets — excluding the Fire Burners, Fire Lites and Fire Gel products — at a court-supervised auction, according to its bankruptcy petition. Teters Floral Products, Inc. has submitted an offer of $1.1 million for the company, according to court documents. The sale will take place July 27.

John Napolitano, an attorney representing Michael Hubbard, said yesterday he is not concerned about the bankruptcy. “There are many other defendants,” Napolitano said.

Napolitano said his firm plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of the boy and his family within a few weeks.

In mishaps like the one that left Hubbard in a coma from which he is yet to emerge, the Fire Gel fuel ignites or explodes, splattering flaming gel that sticks to clothing and skin, according to witnesses.

Ola Addante, of Atascadero, Calif., died July 7, four days after a Napa fire pot exploded at a backyard party, slathering her in flaming gel. Family members said it was impossible to extinguish the burning gel. The 84-year-old woman rolled on the ground, but it didn’t help.

“The gel was just rubbing all over her body and creating more fire,” her grandson told a California TV station this week. The woman’s son-in-law pushed her into the pool to put out the flames. In his effort to help her, he sustained second-degree burns to his hands and arms, according to the report. The family said it was unaware the product had been recalled by the federal consumer protection agency.

According to most accounts, the candles “exploded,” spraying flaming gel in all directions, after someone added liquid fuel to the stainless steel cylinder inside the ceramic pot. Witnesses say they couldn’t tell the fuel inside the ceramic pot wa2011_0611_Hubbard_crops already lit because there was no visible flame.

The same scenario played out in a Riverhead backyard May 28, where Michael Hubbard was helping his mother set up for a
party. Not realizing the gel candle was already lit, his cousin added more gel fuel and it exploded. Flaming gel splattered on Michael’s face, neck and torso. It stuck to his clothes and skin, causing severe burns over much of the boy’s b
ody. In the days and weeks that followed, he battled infections and kidney failure, and nearly two weeks after the horrific accident, went into cardiac arrest. He was revived by doctors, but was gone for 13 minutes. Doctors have told his family that lack of blood flow to his brain during that time caused brain damage from which he may not recover. He remains unconscious at Stony Brook University Medical Center, where his mother, Nancy Reyer has kept a bedside vigil for 56 days.

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