Staying safe around the campfire

With campfire season underway, it's important to be aware of possible burn risks.

“It happened so fast I didn’t have time to move out of the way. I was engulfed in flames!” A quote from my 21-year-old nephew who is now being treated in a burn unit for second and third-degree burns. The accident happened when the campfire pit that he was sitting by was ignited when people threw accelerants into the fire. The flames jumped over 10 feet and engulfed him and his clothing.

Campfire accidents just like this send thousands of people to emergency rooms each year. Contributing to those burn accidents is sitting too close and wearing flammable (fabrics that ignite quickly) clothing like cotton and cellulosic fibers such as linen, rayon, lyocell and ramie. Safety tips include having enough room around you to make a quick exit, and wearing quick release vests or clothing that can be easily pulled off should they ignite.

Flameless burns

Skin can be burned without being touched directly by the flame. Clothing can also be ignited without an open flame. Being in a closed space without an exit can contribute to what are called radiant burns. Radiant heat means there is no flame, but the heat you feel from a fire or campfire. It is invisible and travels in a straight line. The heat can be blocked by solid objects, but it is very dangerous in large amounts.

How long do burns take to heal?

According to the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP)

  • Superficial burns—3 to 6 days.
  • Superficial partial-thickness burns—usually less than 3 weeks.
  • Deep partial-thickness burns—usually more than 3 weeks.
  • Full-thickness burns—heal only at the edges by scarring without skin grafts. A skin graft is a very thin layer of skin that is cut from an unburned area and put on a badly burned area.

Traumatic burns to the skin can be some of the most difficult injuries to treat. Not only does the burn victim suffer pain, it is most generally a long road to recovery and healing. Burn pain is considered among the worst type of pain. For severe burns, skin grafting (a medical, surgical procedure) may be needed. Grafting can be done from a donor graft or from skin from the burn victim. Skin grafting and healing can take years. Scarring on the skins surface lasts a lifetime.

Please review these fire safety tips from the National Fire Protection Association, campfire safety tip sheet. Burn accidents can happen in your own backyard. Stay safe while around campfires or when burning yard brush and debree. For more information about managing chronic pain, visit Michigan State University Extension.

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