Jul 31, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

Kids are lighting themselves on fire – in the hopes of social media stardom.

It’s called the “Fire Challenge.” Participants, mostly young men, film themselves dousing parts of their bodies in flammable liquid, and then lighting it on fire. While the flames only last for a few seconds, the possibility for tragedy is enormous. Already one 15-year old boy has died and several others had to seek treatment at burn centers across the country.

“Fire is not something that can be controlled and any time flame and an accelerant combine there is a potential for injury,” says Annette Matherly, RN, Community Outreach and Disaster Coordinator at the University of Utah Burn Center. “Fire misuse behaviors are associated with devastating costs, injuries and life changing consequences.”

Those who are trying the challenge claim they can control the flames because it only burns the accelerant, not the skin. But Matherly says nothing could be further from the truth. “In fire protection an accelerant is any substance or mixture that ‘accelerates’ the development of fire,” she says. “When a fire is accelerated, it can produce more heat, consume the reactants more quickly, burn at a higher temperature, and increase the spread of the fire.”

Burn injuries are nothing to take lightly. Even a minor burn can become infected and cause complications. Second and third degree burns will need to have the damaged skin removed and skin grafts may be required for severe burns. “Burns are painful injuries that can take a long period of time to heal,” says Matherly. “The pain however, is not just physical, there can be long term psychological consequences that last a life time as patients relive the injury and its treatment course. “ 

The impacts of the challenge go beyond personal injury as well, according to Matherly. “If anyone else is injured, or there is property damage sustained as a result of the fire, then the juvenile responsible or their family may be prosecuted and can be billed for the cost of fighting the fire and sued for damages,” she says.

The Phoenix Society, a group dedicated to support for burn survivors, has put out a call warning teens not to attempt the challenge. Their statement reads in part: “We have first-hand experience with the effects of fire, understand the devastating impact of fire on our lives, and hope our efforts to warn youth will prevent future injuries and deaths from this dangerous activity.”

Matherly seconds their statements, adding, “There is no safe way to play with fire. Every time you come in contact with it there is a possibility of injury or death.” Is that really worth a few views on YouTube or followers on Vine? Says Matherly, “Absolutely not.” 

Libby Mitchell

Libby Mitchell is the Social Media Coordinator for University of Utah Health Care. Follow her on Twitter @UUHCLibby.

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