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June 2007 Issue

When charcoal grilling, wait several minutes after spraying charcoal with lighter fluid to ignite the coals. This allows explosive vapors to dissipate.
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HEALTH LINE: Smart Safety Precautions Help People Avoid Common Summer Burns

By Amanda Harper
Published June 2007

Now that the weather is getting warmer and more families are cooking outside, taking road trips and going camping, UC burn specialists want to remind people to take a few extra safety precautions to prevent the painful burn injuries that can quickly take the fun out summer.


Kevin Bailey, MD, says most summer burn injuries involve the three “Cs” of outdoor activities—cooking, cars and camping—and that people should take extra precautions when participating in these seemingly harmless activities.


“The best advice is to use common sense,” explains Bailey, a UC associate professor of surgery and burn surgeon at Shriners Hospital for Children and University Hospital. “When people are out in the sun having fun, they can become too relaxed and start making poor decisions that leave them at risk for burn injuries, most of which can be easily prevented.”


Burns occur when the skin and underlying tissue are damaged not only by heat, but also by chemicals or electricity.


They are categorized by the temperature and duration of exposure endured by the skin. First-degree burns (for example, sunburn) result in reddening of the skin and pain. Second-degree burns (like scalds) cause blistering and are more painful, but usually heal within two weeks. Third-degree burns destroy all layers of the skin and often require skin grafting—surgical replacement of the dead skin.


Bailey suggests following the guidelines offered by the American Burn Association (ABA) for staying safe—and burn free—during the hot summer months:


To safely deal with an overheating car,

  • Give the car time to cool before checking fluid levels. Radiator fluid, which is hot enough to scald the skin in less than a second under normal conditions, can boil and explode under the increased heat and pressure.

To build a controllable campfire,

  • Remove debris (grass and needles) within a 10-foot diameter of where you want to build your campfire.
  • Create a fire circle out of rocks. This will help regulate rogue flames and extinguish ashes that flick off the fire.
  • Don’t use flammable liquid to ignite a fire or on hot coals. This can cause an explosion and body burns.
  • Wear appropriate clothing around the fire. Avoid open-toed shoes and loose-fitting clothes, as both can increase your chances of being burned.


To safely cook grilled food,

  • When charcoal grilling, wait several minutes after spraying charcoal with lighter fluid to ignite the coals. This allows explosive vapors to dissipate.
  • Store plastic lighters inside your home. The weather can cause the plastic to crack and leak flammable fluid onto outdoor surfaces.
  • Keep a safe distance from the hot grill—even after the coals are extinguished. Charcoal can stay hot enough to burn the skin for 24 hours.
  • When gas grilling, always check the fuel connections before lighting the grill. Spray soapy water on the connections and look for bubbles to identify leaks.
  • Clean the tubes that disperse gas under the grill. These tubes can collect debris and create gas blockages that lead to spontaneous explosions.


If you do experience a burn, Bailey says, you must first stop the burning process by removing clothes or jewelry that may help transmit the heat, and then cool the burned area by running cool—not cold—water over the area for several minutes. Last, cover the burn with a clean, dry cloth to soothe the area.


“In general, the burn should be kept clean by washing it daily with soap and water—antibiotics usually aren’t necessary for minor burns,” Bailey explains. “But you should seek immediate medical attention for deeper burns and any burn that involves the face, hands, feet, major joints or genital area.”


The ABA estimates that more than 1 million Americans suffer burn injuries each year, resulting in about 45,000 hospitalizations and 2,700 deaths.


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