Recently my 13-year-old son & I went on a camping trip to put his new swag to the test on South Stradbroke Island, QLD. Our father-son bonding time was interrupted early in the trip when he suffered a significant burn to his hand and fingers. The cause… a campfire covered with sand. Whoever was using the camping spot the night before us had decided to extinguish their campfire by covering it with sand.
Interestingly, when telling this story to friends and family, many of them were unaware of the danger of covering beach fires with sand.
So why is covering beach fires with sand so dangerous?
Insulation of Embers: Sand insulates hot embers. When you cover a beach fire with sand, it may appear extinguished from the outside, but underneath, the sand creates an insulating layer that keeps embers red hot. These embers can remain hot for many hours and even days.
Invisible Hazard: When a fire is buried with sand, the danger becomes invisible. People walking on the beach might not realise there’s a hotbed of embers under the sand. This poses a significant burn risk, especially to children or pets who might unknowingly step on the area (exactly what happened to my Son!)
Delayed Re-ignition: The insulated, hot embers have the potential to reignite. A gust of wind or additional combustible material could easily cause these hidden embers to flare up again, potentially leading to a fire that could spread beyond the initially controlled area.
Environmental Damage: Covering a fire with sand might also have environmental impacts. The heat can sterilise the sand, killing microorganisms and affecting the local ecosystem. Plus, remnants of the fire, such as charcoal or debris, can be left behind, polluting the beach environment.
False Sense of Security: Similar to campfires in other settings, covering a beach fire with sand can give a false sense of security. People might leave the site thinking the fire is completely out, not realising they’ve left behind a potential hazard.
Treating burn Injuries.
While prevention is the best approach to ensure safety around beach fires, accidents can still happen. In the event of a burn injury, fast and appropriate treatment is essential to minimise damage and reduce the risk of complications. Here are the steps to follow:
- Immediately cool the burn with cool running water for a minimum of 20 minutes.
- If possible, remove all rings, watches, jewellery and other constricting items from the affected area without causing further tissue damage.
- If possible, remove non-adherent clothing
- Cover the burn with a loose, light, non-adherent dressing, such as cling wrap or a saline/water-soaked dressing.
- Where feasible, elevate the burned body parts to minimise swelling.
- Treat the casualty for shock and maintain their body temperature.
- Seek Medical Attention: Depending on the severity of the burn, it may be necessary to seek immediate medical attention.
- Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage pain and reduce inflammation. Follow the recommended dosage instructions.
- Stay Hydrated: Burns can lead to fluid loss, so it’s essential to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated during the healing process.
- Avoid Popping Blisters: If blisters form, do not pop them. Popping blisters increases the risk of infection and can slow down the healing process.
So how should beach fires be extinguished?
Simple – with water! Pour a significant amount of water over the fire until it is completely out. Allow the water to cover all the hot coals and leave the fire open, do not cover it with sand.