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Safety tips for a burn-free summer campfire

A couple warms themselves by a campfire in Colorado Springs, Colo. on Jan. 21, 2010. A sobering reminder of the fatal potential of burns came earlier this month when a 53-year-old woman died after falling into a firepit at a private campsite in central Alberta.

Craig F. Walker/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A sobering reminder of the fatal potential of burns came earlier this month when a 53-year-old woman died after falling into a firepit at a private campsite in central Alberta.

The Red Deer woman, who was camping with friends near Torrington, Alta., suffered third-degree burns to the majority of her body and, despite being airlifted to a local hospital and later transferred to Foothills Medical Centre (Calgary's largest hospital), succumbed to her injuries.

Park officials, like Shawn Polley, want to remind campers that these types of tragedies are entirely preventable.

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Tripping into firepits is a major hazard and children in particular need to be carefully watched, said Polley, manager of emergency services with Alberta Parks for the Kananaskis Region.

Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children burn prevention website suggests drawing a "safety circle" about 1.2 metres (four feet) from the edge of the fire to provide kids with a clear boundary.

Adults can also be at risk of tripping, especially when alcohol is involved. A 2010 American study of hospital admissions due to burns from campfires and beach bonfires found alcohol was a factor in more than 60 per cent of adult injuries.

How you start and extinguish a fire are just as important to prevent injuries.

In parks, Polley advises using only designated firepits. These may be harder to find in backcountry areas, so Polley suggests campers use backpack stoves since they create small contained fires with no impact on the environment.

Additionally, Polley says never use gasoline or lighter fluid to start a fire. Once the fire is lit, keep it small, using three to four logs, and never rush to use additional logs that might fuel a larger fire than intended or necessary. Keep four litres of water nearby in case the fire gets out of control, and when done, put out the fire with water, not sand, since covering a fire will retain its heat.

In case of injury, Polley says campers should be equipped with information on whether the area is serviced by 911, what emergency services are nearby and whether there will be cell reception.

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The World Health Organization advises that while waiting for help, to provide first aid that will "cool the burn, prevent ongoing burning and prevent contamination" in its report on child injury prevention. Remove clothing from the area to prevent continued burning. Applying cold water to a burn will also help prevent ongoing burning and cool the area.

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