Salem woman gets $5 million after suffering burns in fuel gel explosion

SALEM, Ore. - A Salem woman severely burned by a fuel gel explosion that erupted from a food warming tray received a $5 million settlement on Monday from the company.

Now, 74-year-old Lillis Larson wants to warn others about the potential dangers of fuel gel products.

Four years ago, Larson suffered second- and third-degree burns over much of her body. She had been standing near a food warming tray at the Salem art fair when someone refilled the empty fuel can with a two-liter bottle of gel.

The bottle sucked up the vapors and the fuel gel exploded, spewing at Larson.

"Because it's a napalm-like substance, it sticks to you and it keeps burning and it doesn't go out with water," she said.

Larson suffered emotional scars, as well.

"Just one candle is OK, but we had candles all across the front of our church one time, and as I started to go up there I just thought, 'I can't do this. I have to get out of here,'" she said.

She received damages Monday from Ecoflame, which manufactures the fuel gel products. While the company didn't admit fault in the settlement, federal lawmakers are looking at measures that would change the way fuel gel products are labeled and packaged.

Larson now feels fortunate she's alive and believes she was lucky based on a couple factors: There were two paramedics nearby when it happened. Also, her stature at 6 feet 1 inch prevented the accident from being worse.

"I'm tall. And some of my friends that were there who are like 5 feet 2 said if that had been me it would have burned my whole face off," Larson said. "If your face is burned, you likely will inhale stuff and I wouldn't have survived."