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Better to sacrifice the marshmallow than risk burn injury

Tips for keeping campfires safe from a Loyola University Health System burn surgeon

MAYWOOD, Ill. (April 3) – With this chilly start to spring, many families are breaking out their fire pits or starting bonfires to recover from cabin fever and start enjoying the outdoors. Although fire pits and campfires are a great way to connect with friends and family, they also can be dangerous.

“Campfires and fire pits are great places to relax, but someone should always be paying attention to the fire. Fires can be unpredictable and burn injuries can happen quickly,” said Anthony Baldea, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Burns at Loyola University Health System.

Baldea said that caution should start from the moment a person begins to build a fire and especially when igniting it. This includes clearing away all flammable ground material such as leaves. It’s also important to ensure the fire is in a wide, open area away from enclosed spaces and trees. Also, the person starting the fire should wear protective gear, including nonflammable clothing, gloves and possibly a shield for the face.

“People often use gas or lighter fluid to get the fire going and that is extremely dangerous because these are unpredictable. Make sure you use an appropriate method to start the fire. Also, patience is important. If the flame doesn’t ignite right away, wait a few minutes. If reigniting, use caution and get everyone who is not in protective gear as far away as possible,” Baldea said.

Trips and falls are another common cause of burn injury, especially in children. To keep children and others safe, Baldea suggested creating a safety circle of 10 feet or more around the fire that should not be crossed. If possible, put a gate or other barrier around the fire to help limit injuries if someone should trip.

“Kids get excited about being outside and playing. Parents need to be vigilant and keep an eye on their kids. They should make sure children are not playing near the fire and help them when making campfire snacks like s’mores,” Baldea said. “Alcohol and fire don’t mix. Keep alcohol away from the flame and it’s safest not to drink at all when near an open flame as it can cloud judgment."

Although roasting marshmallows is often a campfire highlight, they can cause serious injury. Baldea said the stick or roasting prong used to cook the marshmallow should be long enough that you don’t feel the heat of the flame while roasting it.

“Often marshmallows catch fire and our instinct is to blow it out. Don’t use your own breath to put out the fire; this can lead to burns on the face and hands. Instead, drop it to the ground and stamp it out. It’s best to sacrifice the marshmallows for your skin,” Baldea said.

If someone catches fire, remember to stop, drop and roll and call 911. Do the following until help arrives:

  • Stop the fire
  • Prevent injury from getting worse by removing the source and any clothing that may be on fire
  • Put a dry dressing on the wound to stop heat loss; this will also assist in pain control

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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Evie Polsley
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