From beach to backyard, caution can reduce fire pit burns

December 01, 2012
Tina Aldatz Norris, Patient

Backyard barbecues and beach bonfires are beloved summer activities across the country, but they also put people—especially children—at risk of painful, long-term injury. In fact, about half of the injuries treated at UC Irvine’s Regional Burn Center occur at the beach; most involve children 6 and younger who crawl or fall into fire pits. And then there are the hidden dangers of sand-covered coals.

Tina Aldatz Norris learned firsthand about the danger of coals when she was 10 years old. She was celebrating summer with her family at Santa Monica beach when she suddenly fell on the ground screaming. Both of her feet had landed on hot charcoals buried beneath the sand at a beach fire pit.

“I ended up with 3rd degree burns on both feet,” says Tina. “We relied on the staff, nurses, and doctors for care, information, and support. My mother was a single parent raising three children alone and funds were extremely tight. In terms of daily expenses which included dressings and ointments in addition to gas to and from the hospital, it would have been devastating to our household without the help of UC Irvine and their after care programs.”

For months afterward, the simple act of walking in sneakers or flats was painful for Tina and to this day, her feet are sensitive and prone to blistering. Nevertheless, Tina has been inspired to create some good out of her experience. She became a certified podiatrist and started a company called Foot Petals in Long Beach that brings together podiatrists and engineers to create designer insoles.

“I know that many children are injured every year due to fire pit injuries, and I feel it’s critically important to raise safety awareness,” says Tina.

Burn center officials offer simple steps to lessen the risk of fire pit burn injuries:

  • Don’t bury hot charcoals in sand. While sand might extinguish the flames, coals can smolder for up to 24 hours. Sand locks in heat, making smoldering coals even hotter. Worse yet, sand-covered coals cannot be seen, making them even more dangerous to children who may look at a fire pit as a sand box. Coals should be extinguished by drenching them in water, waiting five minutes and drenching them again. If water is not available, simply let the coals burn out. The most risk occurs when hot coals are buried in the sand, creating a hidden danger.
  • Be aware of your environment, especially with children around. Treat fire pits as you would a pool or anything else dangerous and exercise similar caution around them. Be wary of embers that spark from fire pits. Even if it appears as if it has not been used recently, always assume there are hot coals or embers at the bottom of a fire pit.
  • If injured, don’t put ice on the skin. Ice can cause skin damage, especially to children, whose skin is thinner than adults. Wash the burn with cool water for up to 10 minutes. For a small area, put a cool washcloth on it; with a larger burn, a cool towel can lower body temperature. Take the burn victim immediately to the nearest emergency room.

View by Category