Child with sparkler
Even a sparkler can burn at 1200 degress. Image courtesy of DeltaMike/Flickr

The number of people who get burned doubles every year on Independence Day, even small fireworks can be culprits. So the best way to treat burns is to prevent them, according to burn doctors.

By Kelsey Tsipis

Most people aren’t aware that the sparklers available in nearly every grocery store around July 4th burn at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit.

“People just don’t know the danger even legally available fireworks bring,” said Dr. Bruce Cairns, the director of the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospital.

Burn degree diagram. Image courtesy of K. Aainsqatsi, Wikimedia Commons
Burn degree diagram. Image courtesy of K. Aainsqatsi, Wikimedia Commons Credit: K. Aainsqatsi, Wikimedia Commons

Each year in the United States, 1.1 million burn injuries require medical attention according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Children aged 5 to 14 years old are at the highest risk — comprising 80 percent of those injuries. And burn incidences nearly double across the country on July 4th, alone.

Many burn victims were using barbecue grills, according to Cairns. But he said a full 40 percent of people burned on Independence Day were using fireworks, sparklers being the most common type.

“It’s really important for people to realize how hot they are and how quickly things can go bad,” said Cairns.

Cairn’s burn center is one of only two comprehensive burn centers in North Carolina. There are only 200 special burn care centers in the United States. Cairns said burn treatment is especially difficult because it doesn’t end when the patient is discharged.

“Once people have an injury, we work with them with them for the rest of their lives,” said Cairns. “There’s psychological as well as physical pain.”

Cairns said the volume in the center has been substantial enough for them to expand this year from 21 ICU beds to 25.

“We’re one of the few businesses that would like to be put out of business,” said Cairns. “Really the only way to treat a burn is to prevent it.”

Child with sparkler
Even a sparkler can burn at 1200 degrees F, hot enough to cause a serious burn. Image courtesy of DeltaMike/Flickr

Cairns recommends this holiday week that families take extra preventive measures to avoid burns due to the record-breaking high temperatures.

“If you are setting off fireworks, use common sense,” said Cairns. “Don’t set off in a dry, hot area that can ignite.”

Cairns also recommends to have water on hand and not to let young children run with sparklers.

“I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘It happened too fast’ or ‘I didn’t think it could happen to me,’” said Cairns. “If you are burned, do not but butter or lotion on it. Use cool water, not cold. And then if it’s still painful, see your healthcare provider and if it’s severe enough they’ll send you here.”

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What to do if you get burned:

  • Stop the burning process immediately. Small burns may be cooled with water; large burns need to be covered with a dry sheet.
  • Clean the injury with mild soap and water.
  • Remove clothing, jewelry, shoes before swelling.
  • Apply a small amount of antimicrobial ointment.
  • Cover wound loosely with gauze or sterile dressing.
  • Do NOT apply butter, grease, or ointment.
  • Do NOT soak the wound in ice water.
  • Do NOT break blisters.
  • Do NOT remove clothing that sticks to a burn.


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