Fall and winter are the perfect times for the cozy warmth of a crackling fire in the backyard or in the fireplace at home. Many people know the importance of fire safety when it comes to the risk of forest fires and possible burns, but did you know that there are potential campfire and fireplace poisons? As you enjoy the warmth of your fire this year, the Missouri Poison Center wants to make sure that you and your loved ones stay poison safe.
Choose items to burn safely
From the way you build the fire, ignite the fire, and maintain the fire, it is important to pick items that are safe to burn. Adding unsafe materials to a fire can pose health, environmental, and safety problems. Read on to learn about poison related Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to building and maintaining your fire:
- Don’t use flammable liquids, such as lighter fluid, gasoline, or kerosene to start or stoke a fire.
- Do use only newspaper, dry kindling and all-natural fire starters.
- Don’t burn aerosols, tires, glass, plastics or anything containing foam or paint as they may produce toxic fumes. Some of these containers can cause an explosion and possible injury.
- Do use only wood and kindling as the main components of your fire.
- Don’t burn treated wood or lumber in a fire.
- Do choose hardwoods such as oak, ash, or beech that result in a long-lasting fire. Softwoods like fir, pine and cedar often produce more smoke and creosote which is a flammable tar that can build up, especially in fireplaces, and has possible health risks.
- Don’t light or store fireworks near a fire. Serious injury and burns can occur
- Do use fireworks safely outside with proper adult supervision.
Fireplace flame color enhancers
Some people like to use fireplace color enhancers to add a colorful glow to the flames in a fireplace or a fire pit. They come in crystals sticks, or can be embedded into artificial logs. These products are generally safe when used properly, but there have been reports to Poison Centers that children and pets have been poisoned by them. This was the case with one brand of flame color enhancers (called Mystical Flame®) that comes in a small foil pack, which was mistaken for hard candy crystals (the packaging is similar to the popular candy Pop Rocks®). These packs may contain copper which can be very damaging to the digestive system and cause serious symptoms if swallowed.
Some outdoor campfire enthusiasts have been known to use a bit of chemistry to produce bright and colorful flames. The use of metals such as copper or potassium chloride in a fire are not recommended by safety experts. Many experimenters have found themselves with burns or chemical irritation as a result.
Starting and maintaining a fire is tough, especially in poor weather conditions or if you are trying to light a fire in a hurry. For this reason, some people turn to gel or liquid fire starters such as lighter fluid, kerosene, or fireplace fuel canisters that contain a gel. These fire starters can pose dangerous risks to young children or pets when swallowed or spilled on the skin. The gel canisters, usually contain methanol which is a highly toxic alcohol that can cause confusion, blindness, and death with ingestion. Other fire starters, such as lighter fluid and kerosene, are called hydrocarbons, which if swallowed “down the wrong pipe” can cause coughing and chemical pneumonia. If you plan to use fire starters, please use them correctly and make sure that they are put up high and out of reach of children after use. Close adult supervision is needed.
Another possible fire related poison concern is the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO gas can build up if a fire is burning in a confined, poorly ventilated area or there is an obstructed chimney. People who are at highest risk of CO poisoning include children, pregnant women and persons with chronic problems such as asthma or heart disease.
You can protect your family from CO poisoning by having a carbon monoxide detector near all sleeping areas on each level of your home, near attached garages, and between 15-25 feet from fuel-burning appliances and fireplaces. Also make sure that the flue is open and functioning when using an indoor fireplace or wood stove and remember to have routine chimney inspection and cleaning.
For any questions or concerns about campfire and fireplace poison safety, call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222. Specially trained nurses and pharmacists are available 24/7/365 to answer your questions. The service is free and confidential.