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Expert Voices

Turkey Fryers to Yard Fires, Burn Hazards Spike in Fall (Op-Ed)

Trees Ablaze During Rim Fire in California
Trees blaze during the Rim Fire in California, August 2013. (Image credit: InciWeb)

Dr. Larry Jones is director of the Burn Center at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Jones contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

This time of year, more people are exposed to fire, whether it is from a fireplace, candles in the home, cooking around the holidays or even when burning yard waste.

The second week in October is National Fire Prevention Week, and while it presented an opportunity to remind people of important safety tips, fire is always a risk.

For more than 30 years I have specialized in treating burn patients, and I see people year-round for these types of injuries. According to the American Burn Association, an estimated 450,000 Americans seek medical attention for burn injuries each year, and 3,400 die. Those deaths include:

  • 2,550 deaths from residential fires
  • 150 deaths from flame burns or smoke inhalation in non-residential fires
  • 400 deaths from contact with electricity, scalding liquids or hot objects
  • 300 deaths from vehicle crash fires

In the yard

In the fall, it is not uncommon to see people who live in rural areas, or even in suburbs, burn yard waste. This is a bad idea for a number of reasons. First, yard fires tend to get out of control quickly, and are difficult to contain, especially on a breezy day. Some people use gasoline to help fuel yard waste fires. Because gasoline is explosive, we at the Burn Center unfortunately see many patients who have been burned that way. Instead of burning yard waste, we always recommend homeowners bag the clippings for collection or recycling.

In the kitchen

We also see many people who have been burned in kitchen fires. It is not uncommon, because more fires start in the kitchen than in any other area of the home. There's an increased risk when people spend more time indoors, prepare big holiday meals or there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Grease tends to create especially deep burns.

Many people, when presented with fire in a pan, have the instinct to throw water on it or grab the pan and run outside. Both are bad ideas. Instead, put a lid on the pan to smother the fire, turn off the burner and remove the pan from the heat source.

Another hazard is disposable aluminum pans, which are popular for holiday cooking. But, they are flimsy and can be dangerous to the person cooking. When using this kind of pan, put it on a cookie sheet to stabilize it when sliding it into and out of the oven.

Throughout the home

Hospitals tend to see a lot of burns from heat sources including candles, space heaters and kerosene heaters, and even fire pits. Candles should always be stored in a non-flammable container, and should never be left alone. When blowing out the candle, it's important not to blow it out with so much force that the wax spills.

With space heaters, many newer models have auto shut-off features in case they're tipped over. Not all of them do, so it's important to make sure it's on a surface that is safe. Don't let children play around these devices, or stick items into the heater. It is important with kerosene heaters to not spill the kerosene when refilling it.

If you do get burned

If you do get a burn, apply first aid and evaluate whether you need medical attention right away. If it is a serious burn, don't hesitate to call 911.

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First, cool the burn. Remove any clothing around the burn and hold the area under cool, running water. This will reduce the potential for swelling because it moves the heat away from the skin. Do not put ice on the burn.

Many people try home remedies like egg whites, butter or mayonnaise on the burn. We strongly discourage this, because these items are not sterile and could cause infection.

Instead, cover the burn with sterile gauze bandage, and avoid fluffy cotton or other material that may get lint in the wound. Wrap the gauze loosely to avoid putting pressure on the burned skin. Bandaging keeps air off the burn and will reduce the pain. Do not pop any blisters that may form from the burn because they provide a barrier to infection.

If you have any questions or concerns, call a doctor. No burn is too small to get checked out. It is not uncommon for people to seek a specialist for their health issues, for instance seeing a dermatologist for a problem with your skin, or a podiatrist for a problem with your feet. You should consider doing the same thing with a burn. A burn specialist will be able to guide your treatment to give you the best possible outcome in your recovery.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on LiveScience.