The number of burn injuries caused by accidents involving fire pits and outdoor heaters has tripled since 2008, reflecting the surging popularity of the fixtures as well as their dangers.
Fire pits were recently rated as the most popular outdoor design feature by the American Society of Landscape Architects. Some people may think they are just as safe or even safer than an indoor fireplace, yet the number of injuries pouring into U.S. emergency rooms as the weather turns colder tells a different story.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), at least 5,300 people were burned in accidents involving fire pits and outdoor heaters in 2017 – three times the number of people that were injured by the fixtures in 2008.
A quarter of the victims are younger than 5, NBC News reported, citing the National Fire Prevention Association. As people gather around the fire pits, they often allow children to run around or get too close to the pit. Even under close supervision, children can end up inside a burning fire pit in a flash.
On Memorial Day in 2017, John Rippey was roasting s’mores with his two young sons and their friends around a backyard fire pit. He turned away for just one moment when he heard his 6-year-old son screaming. The boy had lost his balance and fell backward into the open fire pit. Mr. Rippey rushed to retrieve his son, who was rolling around in the fire, shrieking in pain, “I’m dying, I’m dying!”
Mr. Rippey’s son survived the accident but spent the next eight days at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore where he received skin grafts for his burn injuries.
As dangerous as fire pits are for children, however, teens and adults actually account for the majority of fire pit-related burn injuries.
In February 2015, 21-year-old Katie Kirk was having a great time with friends around a fire pit in Florence, Alabama until someone decided to stoke the fire with gasoline.
“It was the type of sound that makes your ears bleed; the ground was shaking,” Ms. Kirk told Birmingham, Alabama’s ABC 33/40.
The resulting explosion left Ms. Kirk with severe burns on more than 60 percent of her body. Her long recovery process has included 40 surgeries and multiple skin grafts.
The same fire pit explosion also burned 22-year-old Alexander Dreu Grisham; Haley McKenzie Jordan, 22; and Carley Lacks, 23. Like Ms. Kirk, Mr. Grisham spent several days in critical condition with extensive third-degree burn injuries that required multiple skin grafts.
After the Florence fire pit accident, a Hoover, Alabama firefighter told ABC 33/40 that no gasoline or accelerants of any kind, “including lighter fluid, should be poured onto a fire that’s already going.” Additionally, he said, fire pits should made or placed on gravel, concrete, or other non-combustible surfaces only and users should place them at least 15-20 feet away from the home or any other structure.
It’s also important that people never throw plastic, magazines, trash or any other items that can emit toxic fumes when burned into the fire pit.