PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It was Halloween night and Zoe Smyth was dressed as a beautiful little princess.
“We had lit the luminaries and everyone is dressed in their costumes and I said, ‘Oh, I gotta get your picture,’” Zoe’s mom said.
Seconds later, Zoe’s costume was on fire after it came too close to a candle.
“I remember looking out and realizing flame to ball of fire was so fast that by the time I got to her she was engulfed,” Joella Smyth, Zoe’s mother, recalled.
“I remember looking down and seeing fire all around me and we did the stop, drop and roll,” Zoe said.
Zoe suffered second and third degree burns. Her costume melted to her pants and skin.
“There was nothing that could have warned me that it was going to be that flammable,” Joella said.
Halloween costumes must meet federal flammability standards, but it doesn’t mean they won’t burn.
With the help of the Holiday Park Fire Department, KDKA-TV’s Susan Koeppen set several costumes on fire – all of them are currently on store shelves and were purchased from various retailers.
A Superman costume made of polyester was slow to catch on fire and self-extinguished in seconds.
It was the same with a princess costume – also made of polyester.
But it was different with a witch costume. The packaging had a warning: “Keep away from flames.”
The gold ribbon in the front easily caught on fire and in less than a minute, the front of the costume had burned away.
Susan Koeppen: “So if a child is wearing this costume and that ribbon catches on fire what happens?”
Larry Glass, assistant chief of the Holiday Park Fire Department: “Disaster!”
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends parents look for costumes made of polyester or nylon which are slow to burn or look for costumes labeled “fire resistant.”
But that doesn’t mean those costumes won’t burn.
An Army uniform came in a package that said “flame retardant.” When KDKA-TV’s Susan Koeppen lit it on fire with the help of Underwriters Laboratories, the costume burned quickly. They put out the flames after just 50 seconds.
Susan Koeppen: “If the costume says ‘flame retardant’ it doesn’t mean that it’s fire proof?”
John Drengenberg, with Underwriters Laboratories: “That is a real important point. It will burn a little bit slower than if it wasn’t flame retardant.”
And according to experts, kids should never wear cotton on Halloween – not the costume, nor the clothes they have on underneath.
Susan Koeppen: “So if you have any sort of cotton in your costume and you touch flame?”
Larry Glass: “You’re gonna catch on fire.”
To prove that point, they set a cotton t-shirt on fire. In 45 seconds, the shirt was fully engulfed in flames.
Larry Glass: “It would have probably burned until the cotton product t-shirt was completely burned.”
Susan Koeppen: “So cotton will keep burning – it’s not going to put itself out?”
Larry Glass: “Correct.”
The costume Zoe Smyth was wearing was eventually recalled by the government, but she still lives with the physical and emotional scars of what happened that night.
“We learned a lot the hard way and I am just hoping that we can help other people learn the lesson not the way we did,” Joella Smyth said.
Along with buying costumes made of polyester or nylon, the snugger the fit the better. Sources at the Consumer Product Safety Commission tell KDKA’s Susan Koeppen there will be a Halloween-related recall in the next few days.
KDKA-TV will keep you posted when that recall is announced.