2 Investigates: Gas cans could explode without warning

ATLANTA — A simple item you probably have in your garage could be dangerous.

Recent testing by the gas can industry confirmed how fumes inside your gas can could cause it to explode.

Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland found out a fix to prevent it from happening would cost just a nickel.

Former firefighter Chad Funchess remembers the pain all too well. He was trimming a pecan tree eight years ago and used a common plastic gas can to refuel his chainsaw.

"It was like a sucking and then a blow," Funchess told Strickland. "I was in a coma for 4 1/2 months. Some people say you don't remember a lot. I remember every step I took."

Video Funchess' lawyer gave Strickland showed how it could happen.  A vacuum effect sucked volatile fumes back into the gas can, causing an explosion.

It's not common, but it is devastating. The Consumer Product Safety Commission tracked 11 deaths and 1,200 injuries since 1998.

Doctors at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta amputated Funchess' left arm. His right hand is pinned in place.

"When I look in the mirror I'm not angry, I'm upset," Funchess said. "I blame the people who won't do anything about it."

Safety proponents are convinced a wire screen called a “flame arrestor” can keep any ignition source from sucking back into the can. Funchess’ lawyer, Billy Walker, was able to mimic the effect, blocking the flame from a lighter with a common kitchen strainer.

Gas can maker Blitz, of Miami, Oklahoma, went bankrupt after dozens of lawsuits like the Funchess case.

In a documentary about the company's final days, the CEO claimed the issue wasn't about flame arrestors, but about carelessness and people deliberately throwing gas on fires.

Funchess told Strickland that's not what happened in his case. Along with being a firefighter, Funchess was in the gasoline business. The pecan tree he was trimming at the time of the explosion was behind his convenience store.

Now he uses metal fuel cans on his farm. They all have flame arresters.

"They make cans that are safe. They make cans that have screens,"  Funchess added.

In the last month, Strickland went shopping for a plastic gas can made by the new owners of the former Blitz factory. It had no flame arrestor.

The Consumer Product Safety Commissioner stated in December that flame arrestors should be included in gasoline containers.

Strickland found a document that showed an engineer briefed gas can industry leaders and the CPSC about flame arrestors in 2007.

Funchess was burned that summer.

"It's beyond ludicrous. It is tragic. It is wrong," Walker said.

We received this statement from the Portable Fuel Container Manufacturers Association:

“All portable consumer fuel containers manufactured today meet the required standards for safety. We are fully committed to WPI’s ongoing testing process and will continue to support its efforts to determine whether a safe and effective flame mitigation device (i.e. flame arrester) can be developed. If a test-proven, safe and effective new product safety standard is developed by the ASTM, the industry will embrace it, but at this time the WPI testing process is still ongoing and no design has yet passed all stages of the testing process, meaning no flame mitigation device currently exists that is proven to work in a safe and functioning portable consumer fuel container. It would be irresponsible and dangerous to adopt a device that has not passed all of the required testing that will ensure a design is both effective and safe.”