London Fire Brigade

Two injured by exploding homemade lava lamp

28 March 2012

Two people were injured last week when an experiment to create homemade lava lamps went wrong.

Firefighters  from London Fire Brigade were called to reports of an explosion and fire at a flat in Bethnal Green in east London last Friday night. 

Two fire engines and ten firefighters from nearby Shoreditch fire station rushed to the scene to find a man and woman outside the flat with burns to their hands.

On entering the flat, the firefighters realised that they had been attempting to make their own lava lamps by melting paraffin wax candles in a cooking pan on the hob. The Brigade’s fire investigators were also called to establish what caused the fire and explosion.

Guy Foster, who heads up the Brigade’s Fire Investigation Unit, said:

“We believe the pan of melting wax was left unattended and caught fire. The melting wax released paraffin vapours into the flat which were then ignited by the burning wax, causing an explosion.”

The explosion was so large it caused a window frame  and a large number of bricks to blow out of the ground floor flat.

Bruce Epsly, the Brigade’s Borough Commander for Tower Hamlets, where the fire took place said: “My advice is simple: don’t try this at home. And if you’re using pans on the hob, never, ever leave them unattended as the results can be catastrophic.

“These people were lucky not to have been seriously injured or even killed. Unfortunately thousands of people are seriously hurt in kitchen fires caused by unattended pans each year.”

The Brigade was called to the incident at 2325 on Friday 23 March. The residents, who are both thought to be in their twenties, were treated at the scene for minor burns by London Ambulance Service.

Unfortunately, homemade lava lamp recipes can be found all too easily on the internet. London Fire Brigade’s fire safety experts warn strongly against making lava lamps as it poses a serious fire risk.


Notes to editors

About lava lamps

Briton Edward Craven-Walker invented the lava lamp in 1963. The lamps usually contain a bulb that heats a tall glass bottle containing water and a mix of mineral oil, paraffin wax and carbon tetrachloride.


In 2004, Phillip Quinn, a 24-year-old of Kent, Washington, was killed during an attempt to heat up a lava lamp on his kitchen stove while closely observing it from only a few feet away. The heat from the stove built up pressure in the lamp until it exploded, spraying shards of glass with enough force to pierce his chest, with one shard piercing his heart and causing fatal injuries.