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Campfire Safety
You may have fond memories of camping as a child—singing songs and telling stories around the campfire, roasting marshmallows, listening to the crackling fire and gazing at the stars. No doubt, you'd like to share these happy experiences with your children. Camping can be a fun and enriching activity for kids, but it's important to take precautions to protect them from injuries, especially around the campfire. In fact, burns from campfires are the leading cause of camping injuries for children, and children under age 4 are at greatest risk.

Here are some tips from health and safety experts for having a fun and safe campfire experience with your children:

1. Be prepared.
  • Only build a fire if it's allowed for the weather conditions. Don't make one if it's very dry or windy, and there's danger of spreading a wildfire.
  • Know first aid for burns and have first aid supplies on hand, such as soap and water, antibiotic ointment, gauze, bandages and tape. Know how to assess a burn and when your child needs emergency care.
  • Keep emergency telephone numbers handy and, when possible, a cell phone. Know the location of the nearest telephone or ranger station.

2. Build a safe fire.
  • Use designated fire pits, if available, to contain the fire.
  • Surround the pit with rocks and clear away the soil in a 5-foot wide area surrounding the pit, since the fire can throw off sparks.
  • Build the fire away and downwind from anything that can burn, such as overhanging branches, tents and buildings. Stack firewood away from the fire.
  • Don't use lighter fluid or gasoline to start the fire. Either could explode in your face.
  • Keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby to put out the fire.
  • Never leave a burning fire unattended. When you leave, drown the fire with water and stir the ashes until cool.

3. Supervise children at all times.
  • Make a safe play area for children and pets away from the fire.
  • Make sure kids wear shoes to avoid splinters from wood and burning their feet on hot coals.
  • Don't let them build the fire or throw things into it.
  • Keep matches and lighters out of reach of children.
  • When roasting marshmallows, hold the stick for young children and instruct older children to stand as far away from the fire as possible. Let the marshmallow cool down before touching or eating it.
  • Teach children what to do if their clothes catch on fire: stop, drop and roll on the ground.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician