Summer, Fourth of July Pose Unique Burn Risks

A fireworks explosion or campfire burn can happen in just a fraction of a second but in that instant a person’s life can change forever.  Grilling and campfire season is here, and celebrations for the Fourth of July are approaching, and that means an increase in these kinds of burns.

“It’s unfortunate so many people are burned or injured this time of year in accidents that can usually be avoided,” said  Richard Wilcox, M.D., medical director of the Spectrum Health Regional Burn Center, located at the Blodgett Campus. “The majority of fireworks and grill injuries happen in July, often around the fourth. Being aware of potential hazards and following safety tips helps ensure everyone has a fun summer.”

In 2004, 9,600 people were treated in emergency departments for fireworks related injuries during a 30 day period around Independence Day, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Eight of those people died. “Children account for more than 40 percent of these fireworks injuries, so parents must be very careful,” said Wilcox. “People should also keep in mind that even legal fireworks can cause severe burns.”

The National Fire Data Center (NFDC) estimates that each year outside cooking grills cause more than 6,000 fires, over five fatalities, 170 injuries, and $35 million in property loss. Gas grills alone cause over 2,700 fires, 80 injuries and $11 million dollars damage. Most of the gas grill fires and explosions were caused by gas leaks, blocked tubes and overfilled propane tanks.

In addition to fireworks and grill burns, Spectrum Health staff care for people every year who have either fallen into campfires or are burned from flash fires caused by throwing flammable liquids onto fires.

Twenty-four hour burn first aid and burn care advice can be obtained by calling the Spectrum Health Regional Burn Center at 1-800-544-BURN. Spectrum Health staff have used their experiences and data from the NFDC to compile the following tips for a burn-free summer.

Fireworks Safety

  • Never use illegal fireworks and make sure children never have access to them.
  • Remember this fireworks rule: if it flies through the air or blows up, it’s illegal in Michigan.
  • Sparklers can reach a temperature of 1,800 degrees at the tip and cause nearly 20 percent of all fireworks-related injuries. Consider using glow-in-the dark wands and noisemakers for sparklers and firecrackers.
  • Teach your children about the dangers of fireworks and other explosives. 
  • If you use legal fireworks, read and follow directions on packages.
  • Never approach fireworks after they have been lit, even when they appear to have gone out. They likely will still be excessively hot and may explode unexpectedly.
  • Consider safe alternatives for celebration. Michigan offers many fine community fireworks displays.


  • Before using a grill, check the connection between the propane tank and the fuel line. Make sure the venturi tubes – where the air and gas mix – are not blocked.
  • Do not overfill the propane tank.
  • Do not wear loose clothing while cooking at a grill.
  • Be careful when using lighter fluid. Do not add fluid to an already lit fire because flames can flashback into the container and explode.
  • Keep all matches and lighters away from children. Teach your children to report any loose matches or lighters to an adult immediately. Supervise children around outdoor grills.
  • Dispose of hot coals properly – douse them with plenty of water, and stir them to ensure that the fire is out. Never place them in plastic, paper or wooden containers.
  • Never grill in enclosed areas because carbon monoxide could be produced.
  • Make sure everyone knows to Stop, Drop and Roll in case a piece of clothing does catch fire. Call 911 or your local emergency number if a burn warrants serious medical attention.

Campfire Safety

  • Build campfires away from dry grass and leaves where they will not spread.
  • Keep campfires small, and don’t let them get out of hand.
  • Keep plenty of water and a shovel nearby to douse the fire when you want to extinguish it. Stir it and douse it again with water.
  • Never leave campfires unattended.

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan that offers a full continuum of care through its seven hospitals, more than 140 service sites and 585,000-member health plan, Priority Health. Spectrum Health’s 13,000 employees, 1,400 medical staff members and 2,000 volunteers are committed to delivering the highest quality care to those in medical need. The organization provided more than $100 million in community benefit during its 2006 fiscal year. Spectrum Health has earned more than 50 national awards during the past 10 years.