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Spring is Coming, and so are Outdoor Fires–and Severe Burns

It’s not even springtime yet, but the wildfire season has begun in the eastern U.S.

Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina have experienced low humidity and little rain for a few months now. The result is that there are leaves, bushes, grass, and trees that can be easily ignited by human carelessness.

The largest fire of nearly 300 wildfires that sparked in eastern North Carolina on Saturday kept burning Sunday, and state forest service officials warned that the potential for fast-moving flames would last several days. Crews said they have the fire 80 percent contained and did not expect any home evacuations, but noted that the fire’s spread can be unpredictable.

At one point, the flames jumped a fire-break created by firefighters and spread rapidly into other neighborhoods. Believe it or not, fires that become large enough can actually create their own strong winds, which allow them to spread even when humans try to stop that from happening.

But here is the most critical part of this story: Firefighters said a discarded cigarette from a car was likely the cause of at least one large woodland blaze, which singed 25 acres in an adjacent neighborhood. “It was very quick,” a local firefighter said. “The residents saw it coming, and it just rolled down rolled down the hill and engulfed everything.”

Homes gone, loves ruined–all from a cigarette tossed out a window!

But when it comes to fire, carelessness can happen even in instances where people have good intentions. When camping, for instance, it is very easy to have a fire get out of hand if precautions are not taken before the fire is started. Things like: Using an encased barbecue or stove to house the fire, or piling large rocks in a circle to encase the fire; clearing the ground around the fire of any leaves or other flammable debris; and having water or fire extinguishers ready in case the fire does generate a stray ember that spreads the fire outside its planned area.

Lastly, it is critical that adults NEVER leave a fire unattended even for a moment–the result can be devastating. Here’s an example: In Phoenix, AZ on January 28, an 11-year-old boy was horribly burned in a backyard accident. And last week, he died of his severe burn injuries.

Joe Anthony Fernandez, 11, suffered burns over 90 percent of his body, many of them third-degree burns, when a wood-burning stove exploded. In fact, only the soles of his feet were not burned. Joe was with his family at a friend’s home; they were in the backyard, using the metal wood-burning stove to keep warm. The rest of the family was getting ready to leave, but then noticed the boy was missing. That’s when they heard an explosion.

Joe’s sisters said that Joe found some type of gas or accelerant, and poured it into the open top of the stove to see what it would do to the fire. The accelerant caused the stove to explode.

Joe was air-lifted to the Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Medical Center. He spent three weeks in critical condition, and most of that time doctors kept him in a medically induced coma. Joe’s body could not withstand the trauma, though, and he died last Friday.

Many children are fascinated with fire, and do not understand the danger involved. This is just another reason why it is critical to never walk away from an outdoor fire, or an indoor fireplace.

To read about the devastating effects of fire on a child who survived a similar explosion, read the blog post from February 23 by Larry Kramer of Kramer & Pollack LLP. The details of that child’s recovery will make you think much harder about protecting other kids from situations where they are left alone even for a moment, and have an opportunity to cause a fire to spread or an explosion to occur.