New York Doctors Ask People To Stop Using Gasoline To Stoke Fires After Spike in Burns

Medical officials at a New York university have issued a warning urging people not to use gasoline and other accelerants to stoke fires after a spike in burns related to this practice.

The Clark Burn Center (CBC) at the State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University in Syracuse said in a statement provided to Newsweek that it had seen 38 people hospitalized due to accelerant-related burns so far this year

This number exceeds the total figure recorded at the burn center for the whole of 2020 by eight. In addition, officials said that accelerant-related burns have increased by 100 percent since 2017.

Tamara Roberts, the manager of the burn center, said people have been throwing cups of gasoline onto fires, or pouring the substance from gas cans, in order to accelerate the flames.

Among the accelerants that people have been using in addition to gasoline are kerosene and aerosol cans, according to the burn center.

But using these types of substances for this purpose can be dangerous, medical officials said.

"Many times, using accelerants on an open fire will pop and the fire will leap causing burns to individuals nearby," Roberts said in a statement.

"Most of these burns can be very large and most often require surgery, especially skin grafts and it can be a very painful recovery."

According to the center, most of the victims it had seen presenting with accelerant-related burns have been aged between 13 and 37.

The nature of accelerants means they can be highly dangerous when mixed with fire, Roberts and Joan Dolinak, interim burn medical director at CBC, told Newsweek.

"The gaseous state of the accelerants is the flammable state, which is invisible. So we don't know where the gas cloud is," the pair said. "The flammable cloud will quickly flash over when in presence of a spark, potentially burning your exposed areas and lighting your clothing on fire."

They said: "Flash burns can place a person at risk for facial and airway burns, which may require a ventilator to assist with breathing. We have treated many patients with large and deep burns requiring surgery and a prolonged hospital stay when the clothing catches fire. The reason for this is the prolonged exposure the skin has to the heat and flame. Burns can be severe enough to result in death."

Roberts and Dolinak said there are potentially many reasons that there has been an increase in the number of burns.

"There has been an upward trend in unsupervised play in children. Adults, more frequently males, are spending more time at home doing projects and find that burning old materials is easier and cheaper than regular disposal," they said.

In the statement, Roberts said she was concerned that as the weather gets cooler, people will make increasing use of outdoor fires and leaf burning, leading to more injuries.

The burn center manager also said the facility had also seen a high number of scalding burns this year.

So far in 2021, the center has recorded 46 individuals who have been hospitalized with scalds. This compares to the figure of 55 that was recorded for the whole of 2020.

Roberts said microwaveable meals were responsible for many of the scalding burns.

"There are warnings on most packages about the high temperature involved in using a microwave to prepare a quick hot meal," she said. "But not everyone heeds these warnings."

"Giving your child a soup or other meal prepared in a microwave without letting it cool down, can be problematic."

Accidents involving gasoline are a major cause of thermal burns in the U.S., according to the American Burn Association. Every year, there are approximately 13,000-15,000 visits to the emergency department due to gasoline-related burns in the country.

"Gasoline, when ignited in a controlled manner to power engines, serves a very useful purpose. Because it is so commonplace, however, we sometimes take its presence for granted without realizing how dangerous it can be," a report from the association said.

"The same quality of explosive ignition that makes gasoline so valuable as a fuel can cause terrible injuries when it is handled carelessly or used for a purpose for which it is not intended. These accidents are often associated with careless use (misuse) of gasoline."

Update 10/18/21, 9:56 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include comments from Tamara Roberts and Joan Dolinak with the Clark Burn Center at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University.

Friends sitting around a campfire
Stock image showing a group of friends sitting around a campfire. A burn center in New York state has warned people not to pour gasoline on fires. iStock