Campfire Safety

Campfires are the nation’s leading cause of children’s camping injuries, and primary catalyst for damaging forest fires.

Courtesy: Chris Rhoades for Unsplash

Keep children safe from fire and burns

Roasting smores, escaping the city to enjoy nature, sleeping under the stars. Many families will be taking their kids camping where they’ll enjoy a campfire under the stars. These tips below can keep you and the people you love safer from fire and burns.

  • Keep children 3 feet away from anything that can get hot.
  • Keep smoking materials locked up in a high place. Never leave cigarette lighters or matches where children can reach them.
  • Never allow children or pets near the fire and do not leave them unsupervised.
  • Teach kids how to stop, drop and roll if their clothing catches fire. Have a fire extinguisher on hand for emergencies and teach children how to use it.
  • Keep plenty of water nearby and have a shovel for throwing sand on the fire if it gets out of control.
  • Never leave a campfire unattended. Even a small breeze could quickly cause the fire to spread.
  • When extinguishing the fire, drown it with water. Make sure all embers, coals, and sticks are wet. If you do not have water, use dirt. Mix plenty of soil and sand with the embers. Continue adding and stirring until all material is cooled.
  • Do not bury your coals, they can smolder and start to burn again.

Throwing accelerants like gasoline or starter onto a fire, creates a higher risk for anyone around to catch on fire. If you get an accelerant on you or on your clothes, go change immediately and wash your skin/area thoroughly with water, says Dr. Saman Arbabi, HIPRC core faculty member and UW Medicine professor of Surgery in the division of Trauma, Burns and Critical Care at Harborview Medical Center (HMC).

Different types of burns:

  • Accelerant burns: any substance or mixture that accelerates or speeds the development and escalation of fire. Do not use gasoline or another flame accelerant to start campfires.
  • Sleeping Near Campfire: Keeping a safe distance from campfires will ensure loved ones keep away from injury. Avoid sleeping near an open flame, always completely extinguish a fire before falling asleep. (Dr. Arbabi says nearly 20-30% of injuries at the Harborview Burn Center are from people sleeping near an open fire)
  • Loose Clothing: Wearing snug-fitting clothing is a good habit for cooking over stoves and campfires, too. Fabrics like cotton blends, rayon, and acrylic ignite easily and burn rapidly. If an article of clothing catches on fire, try to strip it off immediately, stop-drop-roll to put the fire out, and/or douse the flames with fire.
  • Cooking oil: Cooking oil burns are more common than you think, many times the grease container under the grill ignites. If possible, turn off the grill off and use a fire extinguisher to put the flames out.
  • Hot coal/ash burns: Many times after a fire is put out hot coals and ash are left behind. Majority of contact burns come from people touching coals thinking they’ve been cooled.

Information Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Fire Administration, American Academy of Pediatrics, Smokey for Kids

First Aid

What you do to treat a burn in the first few minutes after it occurs can make a huge difference in the severity of the injury.

Immediate Treatment for Burn Victims

  1. “Stop, Drop, and Roll” to smother flames.
  2. Remove all burned clothing. If clothing adheres to the skin, cut or tear around burned area.
  3. Remove all jewelry, belts, tight clothing, etc., from over the burned areas and from around the victim’s neck. This is very important; burned areas swell immediately.

First-degree burns involve the top layer of skin. Sunburn is a first-degree burn.

Signs:

  • Red
  • Painful to touch
  • Skin will show mild swelling

Treatment:

  • Apply cool, wet compresses, or immerse in cool, fresh water. Continue until pain subsides.
  • Cover the burn with a sterile, non-adhesive bandage or clean cloth.
  • Do not apply ointments or butter to burn; these may cause infection.
  • Over-the-counter pain medications may be used to help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
  • First degree burns usually heal without further treatment. However, if a first-degree burn covers a large area of the body, or the victim is an infant or elderly, seek emergency medical attention.

Information Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Fire Administration, American Academy of Pediatrics, Smokey for Kids

Second-degree burns involve the first two layers of skin.

 Signs:

  • Deep reddening of the skin
  • Pain
  • Blisters
  • Glossy appearance from leaking fluid
  • Possible loss of some skin

Treatment:

  • Immerse in fresh, cool water, or apply cool compresses. Continue for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Dry with clean cloth and cover with sterile gauze.
  • Do not break blisters.
  • Do not apply ointments or butter to burns; these may cause infection
  • Elevate burned arms or legs.
  • Take steps to prevent shock: lay the victim flat, elevate the feet about 12 inches, and cover the victim with a coat or blanket. Do not place the victim in the shock position if a head, neck, back, or leg injury is suspected, or if it makes the victim uncomfortable.
  • Further medical treatment is required. Do not attempt to treat serious burns unless you are a trained health professional.

Information Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Fire Administration, American Academy of Pediatrics, Smokey for Kids

A third-degree burn penetrates the entire thickness of the skin and permanently destroys tissue.

Signs:

  • Loss of skin layers
  • Often painless. (Pain may be caused by patches of first- and second-degree burns which often surround third-degree burns)
  • Skin is dry and leathery
  • Skin may appear charred or have patches that appear white, brown or black.

Treatment:

  • Cover burn lightly with sterile gauze or clean cloth. (Don’t use material that can leave lint on the burn).
  • Do not apply ointments or butter to burns; these may cause infection
  • Take steps to prevent shock: lay the victim flat, elevate the feet about 12 inches.
  • Have person sit up if face is burned. Watch closely for possible breathing problems.
  • Elevate burned area higher than the victim’s head when possible. Keep person warm and comfortable, and watch for signs of shock.
  • Do not place a pillow under the victim’s head if the person is lying down and there is an airway burn. This can close the airway.
  • Immediate medical attention is required. Do not attempt to treat serious burns unless you are a trained health professional.

Information Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Fire Administration, American Academy of Pediatrics, Smokey for Kids