AUGUSTA, GA - The signs of fall are already here: leaves and the temperature have started dropping.
But at Joseph M. Still Burn Centers, Inc., doctors are starting to see a rise in the number of patients.
"It happens this way every year," said Dr. Fred Mullins, president of JMSBC, Inc., and medical director of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Ga. "The fall means people are starting to burn leaves, go camping more and participate in other activities that make them more susceptible to getting burned."
From bonfires to baking, the risk of getting burned is high in the fall. However, implementing a few safety tips – along with a dose of common sense – can go a long way toward keeping people out of harm's way, Dr. Mullins said.
"Most of the burns we see are people who just got careless, or were just a little too complacent for a second," he said. "It doesn't take long for a situation to go bad."
It's important to stay focused while doing fall yard work, especially if you are burning leaves or other debris, Dr. Mullins said.
For example, people will often use accelerants – like gasoline – to fuel debris pile fires. That's dangerous, Dr. Mullins said, because the fuel can explode and cause severe injuries.
Other tips for outdoor burning include:
• Know what's in the pile, especially if you are burning more than standard yard waste. Some items can emit toxic fumes or explode while burning.
• Check local outdoor burning regulations to see if you need a permit or if burning is restricted in any way.
• Always have a hose nearby in case the fire starts getting out of control. Having another option for putting out the fire – like a bucket of sand or a fire extinguisher – nearby is also a good idea.
• Never park a vehicle on top of a pile of leaves or debris because the heat of the vehicle could ignite the pile.
• Make sure leaves and other debris are not piled up on the roof or clogging your gutters.
• Create a special burn area away that is separated from structures or areas that can allow a fire to spread by a firebreak.
• Do not leave a fire unattended or under the supervision of a minor.
• Make sure the fire is out and all hot coals are extinguished when your work is done.
Another fire hazard for fall is Halloween decorations. In recent years, Halloween decorations have become larger and more complex, Dr. Mullins said.
"In a lot of cases, the outdoor displays some people have for Halloween are just as large as traditional Christmas displays," he said. "They bring similar risks of fires from frayed cords and burns from overheated equipment."
To reduce the Halloween fire and burn risks, people should:
• Make sure decorations and costumes are made of fire-retardant materials.
• Test all extension cords to make sure they work, including checking for frayed wires.
• Once the display is set up, make sure any lights are not near combustible materials, and that extension cords and outlets are not overloaded.
• Refrain from using candles in pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns. Instead, use a battery powered light.
The fall is also a good time to make sure that batteries in smoke detectors are changed. These devices should be an integral part of homes, Dr. Mullins said. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association's annual Fire Prevention Week – which ends Oct. 9 – is themed "Smoke Alarms: A sound you can live with" in hopes of raising awareness of the importance of the devices.
It's also important to ensure that a home's heat source is in working condition because that's one of the leading cause of house fires in winter months, Dr. Mullins said.
Among the ways to make sure a home heating unit is safe:
• Have the heating unit serviced by a professional before its first use.
• Check to make sure all equipment, like the fireplace damper, is working.
• Make sure the chimney clean and clear of obstructions.
• Keep space heaters away from combustible items, including clothes, furniture and curtains.
• Buy only recommended fuel from reputable sources.
• Use a screen to control sparks from the fireplace.
• Don't use an accelerant to start a fire in a fireplace or wood-burning stove.
• Do not overload the fireplace or wood-burning stove.
• Make sure ashes and other debris from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves are safely disposed of far from buildings.
Dr. Mullins said families should develop a fire escape plan and that children should be familiar with emergency numbers just in case there is a fire.
For more information about Joseph M. Still Burn Centers, Inc., please call Jason B. Smith at 706-855-6809 or 706-832-7592.