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Warning about dangers of hand sanitizer around fire pits

PITTSBURGH — Fire pits are more popular than ever before as people plan socially distant outdoor gatherings on cooler nights. When you add flammable hand sanitizer to the mix, the combination can be even more dangerous.

Benjamin LaRose, a college freshman, is lying low these days, taking classes online and working on getting his strength back in his left leg after he was burned at an outdoor birthday party he and his friends held last month.

They ran out of accelerant for their fire pit. Without thinking, one of them poured a bottle of hand sanitizer into the pit.

“It was rather sudden how quick it reacted,” LaRose said. “Very much like napalm — the way it reacted it splattered and exploded in a general direction and unfortunately I was in that direction.”

LaRose’s leg and shorts caught on fire, causing third-degree burns.

“Alcohol is very volatile and explosive,” explained LaRose’s pediatrician, Dr. Lester Hartman of Westwood-Mansfield Pediatrics.

Hartman and other doctors are concerned after several recent accidents nationally where people had hand sanitizer on their hands that hadn’t fully dried, and the residue caught on fire.

“Parents that are working on gas stoves, I worry about with it [hand sanitizer]... and people that are doing a barbeque or even lighting a cigarette or lighting a candle,” said Hartman

It happened just a few weeks ago to a Texas mother who applied hand sanitizer and then lit a candle. Her body and face quickly caught on fire, along with her home, but she managed to get her burning clothes off and get her disabled daughter and pets out of the house.

As for LaRose, after a week at Shriners Hospitals for Children burn care unit in Boston, Massachusetts, he was able to undergo a skin graft.

Shriners Boston says the number of fire pit injuries quadrupled between May and August. This year, they’ve treated 13 patients with injuries from fire pits, campfires and bonfires. In comparison, in 2019, they only treated three patients over the same four-month period.

“The physical injury is getting much better, but there is an emotional - there is a traumatic part to this,” said LaRose’s mother, Kristin LaRose.

Her son wants to get the message out to others not to make the same mistake. “If you’re not fully aware of how something like that can react ... it can cause pretty substantial damage.”

While the CDC says the number of fire incidents involving hand sanitizer is very low, the National Fire Protection Association recently put out several public service announcements warning the public that hand sanitizer is a flammable liquid.

Experts say the best way to stay safe is to ensure that hand sanitizer is fully absorbed into your skin or has evaporated before you go near a fire pit or anything else with an open flame. Better yet: wash your hands with soap instead.

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