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Build a safer summer campfire | Health beat

Campfires are an important part of creating summer memories, but safety should be a priority, especially with children around. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Campfires and grills fuel some of the sweetest memories of summer.

S’mores. Ghost stories. Hot burgers and steaks.

While cookouts can be safely done with children of all ages, these events can also be a source of serious injury.

As families shift into vacation mode, it’s easy to look away from kids, he said. Erica Michiels, MD, who specializes in pediatric emergency medicine at Spectrum Health.

Serious burns happen in an instant.

When grilling, take the same safety precautions that you would when cooking with a stovetop, Dr. Michiels said.

“Teach the kids that the grill is hot and to stay away from it,” he said. “And don’t let older kids use a grill unless you’re there to supervise.”

The most common type of grilling injury? Burned fingertips.

Campfires are more of a problem, he said.

“Adults often like to drink around campfires, so supervision is not ideal,” he said.

Campfire hazards to watch out for:

Trip on

“Children can get too close to the fire, lose their balance and fall,” said Dr. Michiels. And while that can happen to adults as well, injuries are far more devastating for children.

“The body does not tolerate large burns,” he said. “Therefore, a burn of the same size in an adult and a young child is much more dangerous for the child because it represents a greater percentage of the surface of the skin.”

Children, particularly those 4 years and younger, have thinner skin, which puts them at higher risk for fatal burns.


If someone intends to use an accelerant such as lighter fluid on fire, make sure it is a responsible adult to do so. Children should be kept away from fire.

Poison Ivy

Often people throw weeds on the fire carelessly. The problem is that you don’t always know what plants are there.

“The oils from poison ivy vaporize into smoke and cause some of the worst cases, even inside the lungs and mouth,” said Dr. Michiels.

Drinks and drugs

Bonfires on the beach have been a rite of passage for teens for generations. Unfortunately, they are also commonplace for teens to drink and use drugs, leading to dangerous behaviors. This can lead to falls, burns, cuts from thrown bottles.

If you haven’t talked to your kids to explicitly tell them why you don’t want them to experiment with drugs or alcohol, it’s time for a pre-fire talk.

In fact, if you don’t talk to your teens about it, experts say you may be sending the message that you don’t think it’s a big deal. Keep the conversation low-key, experts from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Plan to have lots of short talks and tell your kids that they can text you at any time if they feel unsafe.

Day after burns

“Every year, we will see a few cases where children passed the campfire out the next morning, not realizing that it was still hot,” said Dr. Michiels. “It is an injury that goes unnoticed, but it is more common than people think.”

Parents and adults should review first aid guidelines for burns.

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges an immediate visit to a pediatrician or the emergency room for any inflamed and blistering burn that covers an area larger than the size of your child’s hand. A burn to the hand, foot, face, genitals, or joint is considered a serious injury that should be examined by a professional.

Run cold water for five minutes for minor burns, including a first degree burn where the skin is red but does not blister, and minor second degree burns, which are very painful and likely to blister. Then bandage the wound so that it does not stick to the burn site.

Do not apply any ointment unless directed by a doctor. Don’t use home remedies like butter or fat, as they can cause serious infections.

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