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Family of four plays at the beach with coastline in background

Hidden dangers of fire pits

May 26, 2015 | John Murray
Fire pit dangers

Many locals have fond memories of blazing fires and roasting marshmallows at the numerous fire pits that dot Orange County beaches.  

Keeping a safe distance from the flames is a no-brainer. Less obvious is the danger posed by seemingly extinguished coals. Adults and children alike may assume a lack flames or smoke means the pit poses no risk.

Fire pit dangers

Fire pits can smolder for up to 24 hours despite being covered with sand, which may lock in the heat even if the flames are out, says Dr. Victor Joe, director of the UCI Health Regional Burn Center in Orange, the county’s only American College of Surgeons-verified burn center.

Each summer, the burn unit treats dozens of people — mostly children — injured in fire pits found on the beach and in backyards. Even barbecues pose potential dangers if the risks are not understood.

“These accidents are preventable,” Joe says.

Reduce the risk of burn injuries

He advises adults to exercise caution when using or cleaning up fire pits and offers simple steps to lessen the risk of fire pit burn injuries:

  • Don’t bury hot charcoals in sand. It might extinguish the flames, but coals can smolder for up to 24 hours — and sand locks in the heat.
  • Sand-covered coals are a hidden hazard, especially to children who may view a fire pit as a sandbox.
  • To safely extinguish coals, drench them in water, wait five minutes and drench them again. If water is not available, simply let the coals burn out, without burying them.
  • 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. Watch for embers emanating from fire pits.
  • Always assume there are hot coals at the bottom of a fire pit.
  • If burned, don’t put ice on the skin. It can cause damage, especially in children, whose skin is thinner than adults’ skin. Rinse the burn with cool water for up to 10 minutes, then cover it with a cool washcloth or towel.
  • Take the victim immediately to the nearest emergency room.

With proper precautions, backyard barbecues and beach bonfires can remain safe for you and kids.

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