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Local man severely burned in gas can explosion

You might be one of the thousands of people who use them to fill up your lawnmower or chainsaw.

POCAHANTAS, Ill. (KSDK)- It can happen in an instant and change a life forever.

"I was burned, 3rd degree burns over 80 percent of my body. What wasn't third degree was second degree, "said Steve Oswald.

Oswald lives on his farm in Pocahontas, Illinois. He likes the quiet, the animals and working with his hands.

In September of 2010, just as he's done dozens of times he made about a quarter-mile walk in his backyard to burn some brush. To carry fuel for the fire, he used a red plastic gas can.

"And I was holding the can like this, "Oswald said, "and I watched the flame come out of the fire and run right into the nozzle. And I was holding the can like this and when I turned away it exploded."

"People need to know that red gas can in their garage or out in the storage house, it could be a bomb, "said South Carolina Attorney Billy Walker.

Walker and other attorneys have filed at least 80 lawsuits during the past two decades on behalf of individuals injured in alleged gas can explosions.

"I want them to know that gasoline cans explode, "Karen Kornegay said.

Kornegay sued after her 19-year-old son, Dylan died of burns in 2010 after she says he poured gas on a bonfire and the can exploded. She says that gasoline itself is hazardous but...

"The can the container that it's stored in, is equally as hazardous, if not more, "she said.

The lawsuits allege that these kind of gas cans are dangerous and defective for one specific reason. Their design does not have what this can does have. A flame arrester which they say could prevent these flashback explosions.

"And that's what a flame arrester does. It prevents the flame or the heat source from getting into the can.

This wire mesh will dissipate the heat throughout the wire and keep the flame itself from entering the can," Walker said.

There are already general safety warnings printed on gas cans warning to keep them away from flames.

But scientific tests have shown that under certain conditions that a mere spark can cause a flashback explosion when the gas vapor from a plastic can contacts that source of ignition.

In a statement, the portable fuel containers association says "As portable consumer fuel containers are manufactured today, they are entirely safe when used properly. Vapors inside the containers will not ignite unless in a situation involving manipulation, misuse or in a carefully controlled lab environment."​

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that there have been 11 deaths from alleged gas can explosions since 1998 and 1200 emergency room visits. They are calling on the consumer gas can industry to incorporate flame arrester technology into its gasoline containers-saying in a statement- "CPSC believes that this technology also should be included in gasoline containers."

But the PFCMA adds, " Regarding flame arresters, independent experts have studied this issue and despite all of the research, nobody - including the CPSC, representatives of the industry, consumer safety experts, and plaintiffs' experts - currently has a design for a flame arrester that has been proven to safely allow a portable consumer fuel container to function properly."

Most of the lawsuits have named Blitz USA as a defendant. Until recently, they were largest manufacturer of plastic gas cans making three out of every four portable gas cans nationwide and employing 350 people in the small town of Miami, Oklahoma. They shuttered in 2012 because of what some see as lawsuit abuse.

Steve Oswald is not a part of any lawsuit. He spent two months in a medically induced coma, was in the hospital for 5 1/2 months and deals with pain every day.

He still has the jeans he was wearing when flames torched his body and while he believes that it was own fault for pouring gas on a brush fire--he says all gas cans should be equipped a flame arrester which would cost manufacturers about a nickel.

"Whether it cost a nickel or five dollars they should do it so something wouldn't happen like happened to me for the pain and suffering that I've gone through, "he says.

Oswald says he's not a victim, he's a survivor and he now speaks to groups about the dangers of fire and red plastic gas cans.