Campfire burn prevention and care for children

By Connie Lewis

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, March 27 2012 4:35 p.m. MDT

Three-year-old Taylor Nageli endured the pain and trauma of third-degree burns when he fell into a fire pit during a family picnic.

Crystal Nageli

Book review: Book review: 'Camping with Kids' full of helpful 'down and dirty' tips

Taylor Nageli of Taylorsville is a happy, bright 3-year-old boy without a care in the world, except for the availability of his next snack. But in July 2011, he had to go through the pain and trauma of third-degree burns when he fell into a fire pit during a family picnic.

It happened so fast. One minute Taylor, my grandson, was playing in the picnic area and the next minute he lost his balance, stumbled backwards and fell over the rock barrier surrounding a fire pit into an active, very hot fire. Taylor's Uncle Bo Lewis, of Kearns, was close by and plunged both hands into the fire to pull him out. Taylor's grandpa took a five-gallon bucket of water and poured the entire five gallons over Taylor’s head and body.

His parents frantically checked him for burns and were momentarily relieved when they couldn’t find anything on his back or head. Then they saw that his arms had taken the brunt of the fire and there was skin hanging in tatters from his right arm.

They rushed him to Primary Children’s Hospital and from there he was transferred to the University of Utah burn unit, where he received excellent care. In fact, today, you have to look really close to see any scars.

Campfires are fascinating to young children and a part of a lot of picnics and campouts. With a little knowledge and preparation, most campfire burns can be prevented — and knowing what to do after someone is burned can be the difference between a quick, clean recovery and a long, painful one.

Preventing burns

Cliff Burningham, public information officer for the Unified Fire Authority, said that the No. 1 prevention measure is supervision. It's hard to keep up with kids that have so much energy, but when there is a fire involved, someone should be watching every second.

Campfires should be kept small and manageable. The National Forest Service say that when building a fire, you should never use logs that are bigger than the fire pit.

When it’s time to leave, make sure the fire is completely extinguished. It's also a good idea to check the fire pit when you arrive and make sure that it is completely cool. Don’t get taken by surprise by a fire that wasn’t properly extinguished; smoldering coals and embers can stay hot for up to 24 hours.

When you first arrive, teach some basic fire safety and remind any children that fire building is for adults only.

Keep the area around the fire pit clean of all debris within a five-foot radius. Clear away leaves and sticks so that no escaping embers can light a second unwanted fire.

The American Burn Association suggest that adults draw a circle in the dirt around the fire pit with a stick in a 4- to 5-foot radius so that children can readily see how far away to stay.

Carol Majeske of the Uintah-Wasatch-Cache National Forest Service said that the ranger district works hard to provide safe fire areas. In picnic and campsites close to Salt Lake City, the fire rings are elevated and surrounded by poured concrete. In areas that are more rural, the fire rings may be packed dirt.

Even traveling a few miles out of the city can bring you into a wilderness area. Majeske recommends that parents don’t become complacent, and warns never take safety for granted. Along with fire safety, she urges campers to be aware of steep rocks, rushing water and the wildlife.

Despite every precaution, accidents can still happen. Taylor had several adults watching him and had been taught to stay away from the fire. He wasn’t doing anything dangerous, but as he played he stumbled backwards, fell over the rock barrier surrounding the fire and into the pit. When accidents happen, they happen fast.

Treating burns

Annette Matherly, outreach coordinator for the University of Utah Burn Unit, gave some tips on treating burns.

First, cool the burn and stop the process of the burn. Pouring water on the skin is the best way to do this. The temperature of the water should be tepid, because water that is too cold can cause hypothermia.

At the burn site nerve endings will be exposed, so put some kind of cover over the burn to lessen the pain. It will still be painful, but covering the exposed nerves will decrease some of the pain.

If possible, remove burned clothing because it can continue to smolder. If the fabric is stuck to the burn, don’t try and remove it. Just make sure to cool the clothing with water or a wrapped blanket so it doesn’t continue to burn.

Even with second-degree burns, a burn victim can become dehydrated due to leaking fluid from the burns and may need to have fluid replacement from medical personnel. Don’t give fluids yourself, because the victims often go into shock and the liquid may make them throw up.

Get the burn victim medical help as quickly as possible. The sooner they are treated, the quicker they will recover.

With a little preparation and the right information, campfires can be safe. After all, what picnic or campout is complete without roasted marshmallows and s’mores?

Book review: Book review: 'Camping with Kids' full of helpful 'down and dirty' tips

After attending Brigham Young University and the University of Utah for five years and not being able to settle on just one major Connie Lewis decided to be a writer so she could keep studying all things wonderful and new.

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