With temperatures plummeting during the winter, many families around the country will use fireplaces to help heat their homes. While fireplaces, whether wood-burning, gas, or electric, can be a source of warmth in a home, they also pose a potential safety risk to children.

Fireplace dangers for children 

Fireplaces pose a potential risk of burns to children, even the more popular gas fireplaces. While gas units may appear to be safer than wood-burning fireplaces, children can still burn their hands and fingers on the glass and metal parts of the door. In fact, voluntary industry standards allow for the glass on gas fireplaces to reach 500 degrees, which can be a serious hazard to tiny hands. Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations dedicated to preventing accidental childhood injuries, stated that children between the ages of eight months and 2 ½ years old are most at risk of burns from gas fireplaces.

Fireplaces not only cause burn injuries, but the units can also generate air pollutants that are potentially dangerous to children, especially those with respiratory issues such as asthma or bronchitis. For example, if a wood-burning fireplace were to have a blockage in the chimney it could cause carbon monoxide or other air pollutants to build up in the home. Parents also should be cautious of potential leaks from gas fireplaces and leave the home immediately if they suspect a leak.

Types of burns

With a minor burn, the skin will be red without any blistering. However, a more serious burn can be associated with blistering, oozing. If a child suffers a burn to their hands, face or genitals, he or she should receive immediate medical attention from a doctor.


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) classifies burns into three categories:

  • First-degree burns: Reddened skin without blisters.
  • Second-degree burns: Reddened skin with blisters.
  • Third-degree burns: Deep burns with white or charred skin. Skin sensation is absent.

Treating burns

Burns are among the most painful injuries for children. If a child suffers a minor burn, parents should remove the heat and run the affected extremity under cool water. Parents should not apply butter or toothpaste to a child’s minor burn as it can make an injury worse and can be very painful for a child when scrubbed off.

Preventing fireplace-related injuries

To protect children from a potential fireplace-related injury, parents should follow these safety tips from the AAP:

  • Be certain the damper or flue is open before starting a fire. Keeping the damper or flue open until the fire is out will draw smoke out of the house.
  • The chimney should be checked annually by a professional. Even if the chimney is not due for cleaning, it is important to check for animal nests or other blockages that could prevent smoke from escaping.
  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Make sure it is completely out before going to bed or leaving the house. If you leave the room while the fire is burning or the fireplace is still hot, take your small child with you.
  • Put fireplace tools and accessories out of a young child’s reach. Also, remove any lighters and matches.
  • Install both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on hand.
  • Communicate to children as early as possible the dangers of fires and the heat generated from them. 

Developing and practicing a fire escape plan

With a fireplace in the home, it is very important to develop a fire escape plan and to practice it with your children to ensure they know how to safely get out of the house in the event of a fire. Parents should also purchase fire escape ladders if a child’s bedroom is located on the second story of a house. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joanna Cohen Joanna Cohen, MD, is an attending in the emergency department (ED) at Children's National Health System. Her primary research interest includes bedside ultrasonography in the ED.

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