Rep. Mike Thompson credits Sonoma mom for new legislation

‘Five cents, that's all it would take to make these home use fuel containers safe,' says Sonoma mom Margrett Lewis.|

Flammable or combustible liquids that ignite within their containers cause more than 160,000 fires, injure nearly 4,000 people and kill 454 people each year.

Margrett Lewis's tireless efforts to prevent these kind of burns, which are the same as those suffered by her teenager in a 2014 accident on the front porch of their Sonoma home, may finally be resulting in change, she says, just as National Burn Awareness Week begins.

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) and Rep. Dave Joyce (OH-14) announced last Monday the introduction in the House of Representatives of their Portable Fuel Container Safety Act, a bill that directs the Consumer Product Safety Commission to create a standard requiring 'flame mitigation devices' like flame arrestors to be used to prevent fire accidents.

Thompson credited Lewis with bringing this issue to his attention.

'Margrett has been a dogged and exceptionally knowledgeable advocate for this bill,' Thompson told the Index-Tribune on Monday. 'Not only has she been the single best promoter for fuel container safety she has been truly indispensable in gaining support on both sides of the aisle. We are honored to have her in this fight.'

He added that far too many tragic and deadly fires and explosions happen because fuel containers are not safe enough for everyday use.

According to Lewis, the bill has attracted 25 cosponsors to date and she will return to D.C. this weekend to work hard for more. In 2018, she says she traveled to D.C. at least 30 times on behalf of the bill, frequently joined by her brother, Joe Priest, and sister, Sally Priest Harrison, who have taken up the cause with her.

Lewis's website,, lays out the issue. In short, Lewis believes that if flammable liquid manufacturers added a 5 cent screen (similar to the plastic seal atop a supermarket spice container) to every product they sold, hundreds of men, women and children would be saved from massive burn accidents each year.

'Five cents, that's all it would take,' said Lewis. 'And manufacturers know the science behind these flame arresters is solid. But whether it is profit motive or fear of admitting the problem, they haven't made this simple design change yet.'

'The point at which the consumer buys the fuel is the only point along the process that there ISN'T a flame arrestor,' said Lewis. The new Portable Fuel Container Safety Act would establish safety standards and require these simple flame arrestors.

Added Lewis: 'But they need to do it now. Before anyone else is hurt.'

The simple science is that fire can travel upstream from even the smallest flame back into the flammable liquid in one's hand, even many feet away.

'It's like an invisible blow torch,' described Lewis. 'You can be 14 feet away from a flame and the fire jetting can travel through liquid or vapors and cause a severe burn.'

She describes these 'catastrophic injuries,' as resulting in hospital stays costing upward of $30,000 per patient per day.

When Lewis is not in D.C., she is traveling the country meeting with burn survivors and their families hearing their stories and explaining what she is trying to accomplish.

'These patients are hospitalized for months or even years,' said Lewis. 'All for the want of a piece of plastic that costs a nickel.'

And this idea is not an onerous new requirement, said Lewis angrily. 'Until 2002, fuel containers had arrestors but at that time they came off.'

This is the third incarnation of this bill but Thompson said that this year, he has a broad coalition of support with both Republicans and Democrats along with the American Burn Assoc., the Congressional Fire Services Institute, the National Fire Protection Assoc., the National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Assoc. of Fire Fighters and the National Assoc. of State Fire Marshalls.

National Burn Awareness Week is Feb. 3 to 9 and Lewis and the bill's supporters will then descend on Capitol Hill Feb. 12 to 13 to discuss the Portable Fuel Container Safety Act.

'We want this to move forward as soon as possible,' said Thompson.

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