UC Davis Regional Burn Center urges caution to prevent holiday fires, burns
The holiday season brings with it families gathered around warm fireplaces, candles lit to ignite the holiday spirit and Christmas trees festooned in blazing lights — and that’s what worries Tina Palmieri.
Palmieri, an associate professor in the Department of Surgery at UC Davis Medical Center and director of the UC Davis Regional Burn Center, said the winter drop in temperature is accompanied by a spike in fires and burn injuries from fireplaces and propane heaters.
The cooler weather also heralds in another fire danger: holiday celebrations that include candles, dicey cooking equipment like turkey fryers and Christmas trees left un-watered for weeks that become dry tinder waiting for an ignition source to burst into flame.
According to Palmieri, UC Davis’ Regional Burn Center admitted an average of about 60 patients during November, December and January during the past three years. Christmas tree fires, candles, propane heaters and fireworks during New Year’s celebrations are often the causes of these burns.
Approximately one third of admissions of children during the winter months are the result of flame burns, said Palmieri, who is also the assistant director of the Burn Center at Shriner’s Hospital for Children Northern California. During other times of the year scald burns predominate, she said.
"We definitely see more flame burns due to the use of space heaters and propane heaters during winter," said Palmieri. "Space heaters and propane heaters can cause house fires and severe burns as well as devastating financial loss. And people tend to catch clothes on fire with candles."
"Very young children tend to freeze when they come into direct contact with something hot like a space heater," Palmieri explained. "They don't yet have the reflexes that allow them to move away from a hot object."
—Tina Palmieri, director of the UC Davis Regional Burn Center
This is particularly true of children who have physical or developmental delay, she said.
According to the California Association of Public Hospitals, of which UC Davis Medical Center is a member, the highest numbers of home fire deaths nationwide occur during winter. Public hospitals, whose patients are often lower income, treat a greater proportion of winter-related house fire victims than do other medical facilities.
Nationwide, heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires, resulting in approximately 60,000 each year. Space heaters are responsible for about two-thirds of home heating fire deaths. Candles are the second-leading cause of home fires, with December seeing almost twice the number of candle-related home fires than an average month.
In 2002, there were 241 Christmas tree fires nationwide, resulting in 23 deaths. Lower-income populations are at particular risk of these winter-related fires — perhaps because they are less able to afford heat or electricity or smoke detectors and more likely to rely on propane heaters or fireplaces for warmth.
Tips to avoid burns this winter
The UC Davis Regional Burn Center, working in partnership with the burn center at Shriners Hospital for Children Northern California, has been recognized by the American College of Surgeons and the American Burn Association for excellence in the comprehensive care of burn patients. Children receive treatment at the Shriners Hospitals, while adults receive their care at the UC Davis Burn Center. Both institutions provide all aspects of burn care, including critical care and wound management and grafting. Both centers also provide for rehabilitation and reconstructive surgery.
UC Davis Medical Center is the leading referral center in the region for the most seriously injured or ill patients and the most medically complex cases, covering 33 counties, more than 65,000 square miles and 6 million residents. It operates inland Northern California's only Level 1 trauma center, with comprehensive adult and pediatric emergency departments. The center has been instrumental in keeping Sacramento County's preventable death rate at or below 1 percent, which is less than half the national average. Studies show patients with specific critical injuries have better survival rates and functional outcomes at Level 1 trauma centers and academic medical centers.