The morning after the night before: campfires revisited

John F Fraser, Kelvin L Choo, Roy M Kimble and David Sutch
Med J Aust 2003; 178 (1): 30. || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2003.tb05037.x
Published online: 6 January 2003


  • Even eight hours after a campfire has been extinguished with sand, it retains sufficient heat to cause a full-thickness burn with contact of one second.

  • Because extinguishing with sand disguises the danger, this is a particular hazard for children.

  • The only safe way to extinguish a campfire is with water.

We have reported an increased frequency of burns in children associated with campfires.1 More than 70% of these were caused by hot embers rather than flames, most occurring the morning after the campfire had been considered to be extinguished.1 These injuries result in significant post-burn scarring, which requires recurrent expensive treatment as the child grows. We were unable to find any evidence-based guidelines on the best method of extinguishing campfires.

Our objective was to measure the degree of heat retained in a standard campfire after extinguishing with either sand or water, or allowing the fire to burn out, to determine the optimal method of extinguishing a campfire.


The temperature required to cause a full-thickness burn in one second is 70°C.2 Hence, even after 8 hours, fires "extinguished" with sand retain sufficient heat to cause a full-thickness burn. Campers spend one million nights a year in Queensland national parks alone,3 and campfires are an integral part of the camping lifestyle. Fires, incompletely extinguished with sand, create an invisible hazard, particularly for children. The only safe way to extinguish a campfire is with water.

  • John F Fraser1
  • Kelvin L Choo2
  • Roy M Kimble3
  • David Sutch4

  • 1 Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal Children's Hospital, Brisbane, QLD.
  • 2 Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority, Brisbane, QLD.


  • 1. Choo K, Fraser J, Kimble R. Campfire burns in children: an Australian experience. Burns 2002; 28: 374-378.
  • 2. Moritz A, Henriques F. Studies in thermal injury II. The relative importance of time and surface temperature in the causation of cutaneous burns. Am J Pathol 1947; 23: 695-720.
  • 3. Queensland Government Environmental Protection Agency. Report on the Administration of the Nature Conservation Act 1992, for the year 1 July 1999 to 30 June 2000. The State of Queensland. Brisbane: Environmental Protection Agency, 2001.


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