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Expert warns of dangers around campfires



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Growing up near the mountains means plenty of Utah kids spend summer nights, sleeping in tents.

But what can make for favorite childhood memories can also be extremely dangerous, and one Utah family wants to make sure no one experiences their camping nightmare.

It started as a fun family outing for the Warners last August. They packed up and headed out to the High Uintas knowing the nights would be cold.

"We packed the warmest thing," said Hollie Warner, talking about her son Teagan's fleece pajamas, "We didn't realize how quickly fleece goes up in flames."

Teagan, then 9 years old, was standing away from the campfire when an ember landed on his pants.

"As soon as the fire hit him, within 2 seconds, flames were up and over his head," Warner said. "We did everything. We 'stopped, dropped and rolled.' We had people on top of him. We were throwing dirt on him."

But nothing they did put the flames out. "You're taught to 'stop, drop and roll' when a fire happens and fleece ... you can't put it out that way. It burns until it’s done burning and it just melts," she said.

Warner and the others at the campsite grabbed burning pieces of clothing and pulled them off Teagan.

Once the flames were out, they had to drive an hour down the mountain to find cell service and call for help. Paramedics and firefighters met them on the road and Teagan was eventually flown to the hospital.

He suffered burns over 30 percent of his body. A cotton sweatshirt and underwear protected those areas from the flames, and Teagan's face was mostly spared from the burns.

He spent three months in the ICU burn unit where things, at times, were touch and go.

"Day three his body shut down," Warner said, "Every time they would move him, he would code, and that's when it got real."

Teagan is still healing nearly a year later, both physically and emotionally. A birthday party shortly after the accident made it clear that life would never be the same for the boy.

"I wasn't thinking about the candles that were going to be lit," said Warner, "and he panicked."

Today, Teagan is OK with birthday candles, but he still won't get close to the family's oven and gets nervous even seeing pictures of campfires.

"When he knows people are going camping, he panics," Warner said.

That's why Teagan and his mom wanted to share their experience.

"I hope that, through our story, that people will think about when they camp, not to take the fleece," said Warner.

Unfortunately, Teagan's story isn't rare. Doctors and nurses at the University of Utah Burn Center say they see campfire injuries a lot.

"I don't think people really realize how much risk they're actually at," said Burn Center Nurse Manager Brad Wiggins. "I've seen people die from campfire injuries. Children, young children who trip over the edge of a campfire, over rocks, fall into it face first, palms down, chest down, and they burn the majority of their body, significantly to cause death."

Wiggins said the coals in a campfire burn around 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

"It's going to give you catastrophic … life-threatening injury very quickly," he said.

Wiggins' advice? First, talk to children about the danger.

Second, set a perimeter around the flames. Whether you're in the mountains or in the backyard, a 3-foot "circle of safety" should surround the campfire.

"So many kids are attracted to fire, as soon as one starts they start throwing stuff in it. They're standing closer. They're engaged by the flames, and humans love that. We're attracted to fire," Wiggins said.

Third, never use accelerants.

"The flame can actually follow the stream of the fuel to the canister and explode it all over everybody standing around with a lot of force, a lot of ferocity to damage your skin and catch you on fire," he said.

Fourth, consider your clothing.

Many fabrics, especially polyester fabrics, catch fire very easily.

After the incident, the Warners removed all of the fleece clothing from their home. Teagan was recently given a specialized, custom-made set of fire-proof pajamas. That gift gave him hope of one day going camping with his family again.

"If our family had to go through this," said Warner, "I just pray that another family doesn't."

Teagan's mom also hopes his story can provide inspiration to others who are going through hard times.

"If a 9-year-old boy can do it," she said, "then we can all get through hard things."

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Utah
Keira Farrimond

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