17 Dangerous Mistakes People Make Around Fire and Fireworks


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family cooking hot dog over campfire
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Summer is a time for outdoor fun like campfires, grilling, and fireworks. While most people have no problem pulling off these activities safely, fire has inherent risks that occasionally bring catastrophic results. Here are some of the most common mistakes people make, according to fire safety experts, along with tips to make this summer a safe one.

sign posting on fire restrictions in a rural area
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In situations such as an extended drought or low humidity, park services at the national, state, or local level may enact burn bans or fire restrictions in certain areas. Lighting a campfire thinking there are low odds of getting caught is a bad idea. Fires under these conditions can quickly spiral out of control.

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Abandoning a campfire before ensuring it's completely out is a major mistake and a fire hazard. "There's a chance a fire could rekindle and spread sparks and embers," says  Tina Boehle of the National Park Service's Division of Fire and Aviation Management. That's a risk to surrounding vegetation (think forest fires) as well as the safety of anyone near the still-hot ashes.

burning campfire
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It's also dangerous to leave a live campfire unattended. Even calm days can turn gusty, which raises the risk of a stray spark or ember igniting brush, trees, or an entire forest. Smokey Bear may seem like kid stuff, but people of all ages need to take his lessons seriously.

man on the ATV Quad Bike on the mountains road
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Heat from the underside of a vehicle, whether it's an ATV or the family car, can be hot enough to start a fire. Stick to the roads and well-groomed trails -- or go for a hike instead.

cigarette butt
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Cigarette butts and discarded matches can smolder, even if they seem to be completely out. Make a habit of soaking them with water and discarding them safely (along with anything else used to light a fire) instead of tossing them on the ground.

child holding sparklers
Photo credit: Suzanne Tucker/shutterstock

Fireworks are part of the Fourth of July fun, but when lit by non-professionals, they can cause serious or fatal injury. In the month around the holiday, an average of 250 people visit the emergency room each day, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. One way to limit the risk is to keep fireworks (and lighters) out of the hands of young children.

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If a firework fails to ignite properly, don't try to relight it. There is always a chance it will go off during the attempt. Instead, wait at least 20 minutes, then soak the dud in a bucket of water. To keep the soaked dud from drying out and presenting a further hazard, double-bag it before disposing in the household garbage.

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Avoid the temptation to twist the fuses of several fireworks together. The result may be exciting, but it can also create an unexpected and dangerous explosion. A better plan is to designate one person to be in charge of the fireworks and light them off one at a time. Don't forget, of course, that everyone should retreat a safe distance once the fuse is lit.

smiling boy holding sparklers
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If you're tempted to start a Roman candle war as a fun way to let off steam ... just don't. Also, even if a firework doesn't look like it would do a lot of damage, there's no way to tell beforehand if it's going to malfunction. No matter what, holding a firework while lighting it is never a good idea.

brown paper sheet
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Fireworks packaged in brown paper are generally meant for professional use only, according to the CPSC. Without proper training, which includes handling, positioning, and lighting the fireworks, the casual fireworks aficionado can get into dangerous territory pretty quickly.

barbecue outdoors with large flames
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Just as campfires should never be left unattended, home grills should likewise remain under careful watch. The National Fire Protection Association reports that grills account for an average of 9,600 home fires every year. A common cause (in about 1 out of 5 fires) is failure to clean the grill. The area around the grill should also be clear of any items that could catch fire, and the grill shouldn't be placed too close to a house or other structure.

fire extinguisher
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Whether it's Fourth of July, a campout, or a simple backyard barbecue, always have a water source close by. This can be a water hose, a bucket of water, or something similar that can be used in the event of a fire getting out of hand. It can prevent severe injury or property damage.

dog waiting for the barbecue
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A frightened or enthusiastic puppy getting underfoot is a sure-fire recipe for disaster during summer grilling season. A dog or other pet can accidentally knock into a person or worse, tip over a grill. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends a 3-foot "kid-free" zone around grills, and that rule should be applied to animals, too. 

happy friends partying on the beach
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Drinking even one or two beers can impair judgment — and that can mean forgetting or casting aside critical fireworks safety rules. While having a cold one watching the big show may seem like a natural fit, consider saving that drink to enjoy during a professional fireworks display — which the National Fire Protection Association says is the ideal — and safest — way to enjoy fireworks. 

burning charcoal in camping
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Grilling is an outdoor activity for good reason. A propane or charcoal BBQ grill used in an enclosed space, such as a tent, poses a fire hazard, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Another risk: those sharing the space with the grill could be exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be deadly. 

liquid grill lighter on a charcoal grill
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Looking forward to roasting marshmallows and making s'mores? Don't dowse your campfire in lighter fluid to speed things along. Normandy Farms Family Camping Resort suggests avoiding gasoline, lighter fluid, diesel fuel and other flammable liquids to prevent serious injuries. It might take a little longer, but a simple match will ultimately do the trick. 

cleaning the outdoor grill
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If you've been grilling fatty foods as part of your ketogenic diet plan, it's possible your grill has built up a layer of grease. This leftover grease can ignite, putting anyone standing nearby at risk. Remember to check your grill before firing it up, and clean as needed. 

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