With fall weather here to stay, some people will be hosting bonfires or huddling around the campfire to roast marshmallows. Others will take to their backyards to burn piles of raked leaves or other trash. The use of kerosene, gasoline and other accelerants can quickly turn a small fire into a dangerous, possibly life-threatening situation. 

The Richard M. Fairbanks Burn Center at Eskenazi Health urges residents of Central Indiana to use caution when starting any outdoor fire and to never use accelerants to fuel them. 

Fires are a leading cause of home deaths, causing 2,380 deaths and 12,875 injuries in 2012, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The use of accelerants can increase the risks associated with fire, leading to rapid spread and possible combustion. Thousands of people are injured or killed each year in fires involving gasoline alone. 

“People tend to think that adding an accelerant is a good way to get their fire burning more quickly,” said Dr. Rajiv Sood, medical director of the Richard M. Fairbanks Burn Center and division chief of plastic surgery and professor of plastic surgery at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “But what they don’t realize is that these accelerants can cause fire to do unpredictable things, possibly resulting in uncontrollable flames or an explosion, which can cause severe burn injury or death.”

Examples of common accelerants include propane, kerosene, turpentine, ethanol, methanol and gasoline. None of these or other extremely flammable liquids should be added to a fire. 

If propane is used to fuel a grill, the container should be used strictly according to directions and be stored safely. If using a charcoal grill that requires an accelerant to light coals, also use caution. After the coals have been soaked in the starter fluid, wait a few minutes before lighting them to allow the vapors to dissipate. Use a mitt when lighting, and keep children away. Never add more starter fluid once the coals have been lit. 

If you do have accelerants in your garage or home, store them in well-ventilated areas to allow fumes to dissipate. Fumes are flammable and can catch fire when ignited by a spark or flame. Gasoline should only be stored in small quantities in gasoline-approved containers that are labeled. It should be stored away from the house and with a fire extinguisher nearby.

When starting an outdoor fire, also follow these safety tips:

  • Only burn dry material. Damp material produces more smoke when burned.
  • Keep outdoor fires away from buildings, fences, telephone wires and trees.
  • Avoid lighting fires on windy or dry days.
  • Keep a bucket of water or garden hose nearby.
  • Keep children and pets at a safe distance.
  • Put out the fire completely with water before leaving it.

If a fire becomes out of control or someone sustains an injury from fire, call 911 immediately. Residents should check local ordinances to see what materials can and cannot be burned in their area.

Verified by the American College of Surgeons and the American Burn Association, the Richard M. Fairbanks Burn Center treats more than 350 inpatients each year in addition to 3,700 outpatient visits with patients from across the country. The Richard M. Fairbanks Burn Center is regarded as one of the finest and most progressive burn centers in the United States and is located above the Michael & Susan Smith Emergency Department and Smith Level I Shock Trauma Center at Eskenazi Health. For more information about the unit or burn prevention, please call 317.880.6900.