NHS Choices - Live Well
Georgina Chalmers’ festival weekend nearly ended in tragedy when a camping gas canister blew up in front of her, leaving her scarred for life.
She was attempting to attach a pierceable gas canister to her camping stove, but the two devices failed to connect properly and gas began escaping.
The leaking gas connected with the naked flame of a nearby camping stove, sparking an explosion that burned 28% of Georgina’s body.
She was airlifted from the Camp Bestival site in Dorset and spent two weeks in a burns unit “wrapped up like a mummy”, as she puts it.
Now Georgina, 27, from Milton Keynes, wants to use her story to warn people about the risks of using pierceable gas canisters.
“Although I had taken precautions, I didn't fully appreciate the risks of pierceable gas canisters,” she says.
“I don't think they should be on sale. I'm not a reckless person – if I managed to blow myself up, so could anyone.”
Georgina was cooking lunch with friends Felix and Jen at Camp Bestival in July 2013, where they were running a children's craft stall, making art with stickers.
“I was cooking pasta on a camping stove,” she says. “When the gas ran out I reached for a spare canister. It didn't have a safety valve, just a dimpled top that had to be pierced.”
Having read the instructions, Georgina proceeded to slot the blue cartridge into the handheld stove.
“I tried to engage the clips on the stove, but couldn't get it to take,” she says.
The canister had been pierced though and as Georgina grappled with the device, she could hear the hiss of escaping gas.
“I could see the escaping gas changing the colour of the air around it,” she says.
The canister slipped from her hands and fell. Within moments, the gas caught the flame of another cooker about three metres away and ignited into a ball of fire.
“I just had time to leap up, turn and run,” she says. “Witnesses later told me they saw a ball of flame, two metres across, rise into the air. My tent, three metres from the explosion, was in tatters.”
Her screams raised the alarm and assistance was swift. People came running, carrying containers of water.
“They tipped it over my head and soon I was standing in a puddle, which soothed the burnt soles of my feet,” she says.
While Felix suffered minor burns, Georgina was burnt all along her right side and her back, and had to take six weeks off from her job.
“Most of my eyelashes had gone and much of my right eyebrow, along with lots of my hair. My fingers had ballooned to twice their usual size,” she says.
She didn’t need a skin graft, but some burns took up to six weeks to heal and have left her with permanent scars.
"I am always thinking about safety, that's what I do in my job,” says Georgina, a project manager for level crossing safety improvements at Network Rail.
“But this could happen to anyone who uses pierceable canisters without a safety valve," she says.
Iain Geddes of the Camping and Caravanning Club says if you’re not familiar with the appliance, read the instructions fully and, ideally, practise how to use it.
“Pierceable cartridges are a cheap and reliable way of carrying fuel and, like any other gas appliance, can be hazardous if not used correctly,” he says.
Further safety advice can be found on the Camping and Caravanning Club’s website.”