Beware of the dangers of ‘hidden’ campfires these holidays

2 April 2015

Families are being urged to take extra care extinguishing campfires these school holidays to avoid ending a camping trip in the paediatric burns unit.

Last year, Children’s Health Queensland treated more than 50 children for burns from campfires, with most of them injured walking on hot coals that had been covered with sand, rather than doused with water.

Professor Roy Kimble, Director of Burns and Trauma, at the Queensland Children’s Hospital, warned extinguishing a campfire with sand only hid the danger, leaving children particularly at risk.

“It’s a dangerous misconception that campfires can be extinguished with a few shovelfuls of sand,” Prof. Kimble said.

“Campfires covered with sand can retain heat at temperatures of more than 100 degrees Celsius for up to 24 hours, even after the flames are no longer visible.

“All it takes is one second of body contact with hot coals to cause very serious burns,” Prof. Kimble warned.

Professor Kimble said the number of young burns victims had increased in recent years with several children permanently scarred last year simply because they simply chose to play in the wrong pile of sand.

“In 2014, we treated 56 children for burns from outdoor fires, with 46 of those injuries caused by glowing coals or ashes rather than flames,” he said.

“In 2013, 39 children were burned by coals or ashes, out of a total of 44 outdoor fire injuries.”

“More than half of these children we saw in 2014 were under five years, and more than 90 percent were under nine.”

“Just over half the campfire burns injuries were suffered by boys,” Prof Kimble added.

In addition to the trauma of the initial injury, if a burn causes scarring, children may also require ongoing surgery throughout their childhood to maintain function in the injured limbs.

Elizabeth McHugh, of Joyner, knows too well the hazard of campfires after her eight-year-old daughter Jo fell into a fire that had been left to burn out 26 hours earlier.

The accident occurred in July last year while the family were visiting friends near Bribie Island.

“Jo was playing with a group of kids around what looked like an old fire when she just fell in.  She screamed but didn’t tell us she had been burned straight away, only that she had fallen.

It was only when my husband inspected the spot where she had fallen that he found her melted shoe,” Mrs McHugh said

“Jo sustained a full thickness (third degree) burn on her left ankle and now has to have cream applied to the  skin graft area and the donor site on her thigh four times a day.  She’ll also have to wear a pressure sock for up to 18 months.”

“I’d ask everyone to take the time to put out a campfire properly so no other parents have to go through the awful experience of seeing their child in so much pain that could be easily avoided.”

Professor Kimble said the safest way to extinguish a campfire was to saturate it with at least 10 litres of water.

“This will cool a fire to a safe temperature in just 10 minutes,” he said.

The correct first aid treatment for a burn is to place the injured area under cool running water for 20 minutes and seek medical treatment immediately by phoning 000.

While it is ideal to apply first aid immediately, if running water is not available at the scene, it is still beneficial to apply cold running water up to three hours after the injury.

For more information on camping safely, visit