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Campfire and Grill Safety 

Hot, hot, hot! The summer’s heating up, and so are the fire-related backyard activities, like bonfires and BBQs. Whether you have curious toddlers or careless teens, fire safety should be top-of-mind when lighting up those coals. Let’s review the essential concerns of all things flaming and smoking that could stop the party and land you and yours in emergency care.  

Coal Awareness 

Hot coals can retain heat for hours after the fire is done burning. Don’t be fooled when their color turns from bright orange to black or gray. These could still cause serious burns if touched or stepped on. Always allow the coals to cool completely before disposing of them and keep supervising the surrounding area.  

If you are using a charcoal grill or enjoying a bonfire, be cautious of loose coals jumping out and hitting people or getting lost in the grass. This can happen when there’s sudden heat, wind, or movement.  Keep the fire contained and clear the area to minimize this hazard. Always ensure that children are wearing shoes in case they accidentally step on a loose piece of coal.  

Heat Proximity and Supervision 

The safest distance to keep from a bonfire or grill is generally around 6 to 10 feet. This distance minimizes the risk of accidental contact with flames, sparks, or hot surfaces, reducing the likelihood of burns or injuries. Be mindful of the size of the fire and wind conditions, as these factors can increase the risks of injury. 

Always, always, always supervise children of all ages when near a fire. Designate a fire watcher who is knowledgeable in fire management and confident in their ability to extinguish it if necessary. Bonus points if this person can also teach kids about burn safety as they hang out by the fire with them.  

Ready to Extinguish 

If the fire gets too big and threatens to become uncontrollable, be ready to put it out at once. The safest and most effective way to extinguish a fire is by using a fire extinguisher or a special fire blanket. Make sure to have one or both of these items on hand and ready to go if you are firing up the grill or stoking a campfire.   

Smoke and Asthma 

Fire smoke can significantly affect children with asthma, exacerbating their symptoms and triggering asthma attacks. The smoke contains a mixture of harmful particles and gases, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds, which can irritate the airways and lungs. Inhaling these pollutants can lead to inflammation of the airways, increased mucus production, and constriction of the bronchial tubes, making it difficult to breathe.  

Children with asthma are particularly vulnerable to the effects of fire smoke due to their sensitive airways and may experience more severe symptoms than adults. Encourage affected kids to take frequent breaks from sitting close to the fire, monitor them for symptoms of respiratory distress, and have their inhaler medication close by. 

Grill Safety 

Some believe that gas grills are safer than charcoal because they make controlling the heat easier. While this may be true, they still pose a hazard and should be operated by a cautious and experienced griller.  

Make sure to keep small children away from all grills and grilling utensils. Be mindful of the propane tank – messing around with it could lead to an explosion. Do not use metal scrubbers to clean the grates as the bristles can break off and get into your food. Instead, use a balled-up piece of tin foil, a potato, or an onion! Dispose of cooled-down charcoal briquets far away from any area where children are likely to be traversing, especially if they are barefoot. I’ve seen plenty of burns to the soles of little feet from accidentally stepping on a hot coal. 


Last, but certainly not least, do not attempt to set off your own fireworks. Mishandling fireworks or using them close to others can lead to severe burns, cuts, or fractures, while explosions or misfires can cause property damage and injuries. It might feel cool to set off a couple bottle rockets and firecrackers at your summer bash, but trust me – it’s not worth a trip to the emergency department or urgent care. I’ve seen too many catastrophic hand and eye injuries to count due to fireworks gone wrong. 

All in all, one of the most important takeaways I want to leave you with is this: fire safety education and preparation go a long way. Talk to your kids about the risks of burns and injury near grills or bonfires and help them learn about ways to avoid these. When they’re older, teach them proper fire handling techniques. And of course, always make sure to have the first aid kit stocked with burn treatment essentials: sterile gauze, cold packs, petroleum jelly, and antibiotic ointment.  

From strep throat to stitches, we’re here for your family – wherever you are! Click here to find a PM Pediatric Urgent Care near you. Not near to an office? Get care with telemedicine, available in 15 states. 

About the Expert 

headshot of Dr. Christina Johns

Dr. Christina Johns is a nationally recognized pediatric emergency physician and Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatric Care. An official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, she is board-certified in both pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine. With extensive media experience, the proud mom of two teenagers shares over 20 years of pediatric expertise with patients and families everywhere. Follow Dr. Johns for more insights on children’s health!