Rebecca Bell, MD, MPH, is a pediatric critical care physician at The University of Vermont Medical Center.

Summer time is here and that means warmer weather, longer daylight hours and more time outside. It’s the time of year when parents take kids to the park or on overnight camping trips. It’s a great time for families. But it also marks an increase in serious campfire-related injuries.

When I first started treating pediatric burn injuries I was surprised by the way in which the majority of young children were injured around campfires. Although some children are burned by the flames of an active campfire, most of the burns I saw were from campfires that had long been extinguished. This was surprising to me at first but I found all the studies supported my experience.

Research shows that greater than 80 percent of pediatric campfire injuries are from day-old campfires. (Warning: The links in this blog post connect not only to information but also to images of burns, which may be disturbing to some readers).

Why is that? Unfortunately, smoldering coals, ash and embers can stay hot enough to cause burns for up to 24 hours. Children and parents don’t recognize the dangers old campfires or cooking areas present. In fact, one study found that almost 90 percent of these types of injuries occurred while the child was being directly observed. Deep thermal injuries can occur quickly with less than one second of contact. Toddlers and pre-school aged children were most commonly affected when they fell, walked or crawled onto coals, embers or ash. As you would expect, the most frequently burned areas of the body were hands, forearms, and feet. Deep burn injuries to these areas are very difficult to manage and often require surgery, skin grafting and prolonged physical therapy.

So what can you do to prevent these types of burns?

When you visit a park or campsite make sure children steer clear of fire pits and grills. Make sure children are wearing shoes to prevent burns to the feet. Always extinguish fires with water and never cover them with dirt or sand – that just traps heat and makes it difficult for people to see. If your child may have been burned, seek immediate medical attention for evaluation. These types of deep thermal burns can look deceptively minor at first and always need to be checked out.

Check out more tips from the American Burn Association.

Rebecca Bell, MD, MPH, is a pediatric critical care physician at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital. 

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