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Campfires and fireworks lead to summer burn injuries

By University Of Utah Health | Posted - Jun. 20, 2018 at 8:00 a.m.

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Summer is a wonderful time of year. It’s a time to enjoy the great outdoors, celebrate with friends and family, and relax while the kids are out of school. Summer is also a season when burn injuries can happen.

“We all know campfires and fireworks are part of special summer memories,” says Annette Newman, MS, RN CCRN Community Outreach and Burn Disaster Coordinator for University of Utah Health. “They are also the two main causes of serious burn injury.”

Campfire safety starts with planning where to put the fire and how to build it. Whether or not a designated fire pit is available make sure that you are building your fire at least 15 feet downwind of your tent, and anything that is flammable. When you start building your fire try to keep it as small as possible and make sure you have water nearby to extinguish it at a moment’s notice. Once the fire is going, do what you can to keep it contained.

“Never use any kind of accelerant like gasoline which can lead to a fire quickly getting out of control,” said Newman. “Also, never throw anything into the fire other than wood. Paper or other trash could blow out of the fire and spread the flames.”

All parents know that it’s not a good idea to let kids get too close to a campfire. That’s why we all pack long retractable forks for roasting marshmallows or cooking hot dogs in the fire. The American Burn Association says that distance should be at least three feet from the fire’s edge.

“This is what we call the ‘circle of safety,’” Newman says. “It not only makes it less likely that someone will fall into the fire, but also lessens the risk of sparks causing a burn injury.”

While most people focus on the risk of burn injuries from flames, the real risk comes from embers that are left behind after the fire dies down. The burn association reports that 70 percent of campfire burns are ember caused. This is because embers can stay hot enough to cause a severe burn up to 12 hours after a fire has been extinguished.

“The best way to extinguish a fire is to pour water on it until you are sure it is completely cool,” says Newman. “Burying it will allow it to stay hot and increase risks of burns and wildfires.”

Like embers, sparklers appear to pose little danger. But in reality, the small fireworks that are staples of July celebrations can reach temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit – hotter than a blowtorch.


These and all other fireworks should be kept out of the reach of children and used with the utmost caution. “A designated, sober adult should light fireworks in an area that is free of flammable material like grass or brush,” said Newman. “They should light them one at a time and move away quickly to avoid injury.”

It’s a good idea to plan for the disposal of fireworks before you even start lighting them. Have a large bucket of water on hand to place spent fireworks in after they have been lit. Make sure they are completely spent before placing them in the bucket, because even spent fireworks can be hot enough to burn.

The best way to avoid a burn injury from a firework is to avoid them altogether. There are plenty of other fun ways to make some celebratory noise – like confetti poppers, colored streamers, or glow sticks. You also can get your fireworks fill by attending large displays put on by professionals who follow stringent safety guidelines.

Of course, there are going to be times that burn injuries occur. When they do, be prepared with the four C’s: cool, clean, cover and call:

  • Cool the burn area with cool (not cold) water to remove the heat from the skin.
  • Clean the area with a mild, non-perfumed soap to prevent infection.
  • Cover the burn with a clean cloth or gauze.
  • Call for help if needed. “If an injury appears to be serious seek medical help,” Newman says. “It is always better to be safe than sorry.”

University Of Utah Health

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