Statistics from the National Fire Protection Association indicate that approximately 384,000 residential fires in the United States in 2010 caused 13,800 injuries and 2,665 deaths. While the deaths represent enormous—and potentially avoidable—tragedies, the nonfatal injuries also merit attention. In many cases, household fires cause permanent, life-changing injuries.
As North Carolina personal injury attorneys, we are all too familiar with the effects of scalding water, superheated gases and smoke, and fire on the human body. We summarize these effects below:
There are four categories, or degrees, of burn injuries, signifying the depth to which tissue is damaged:
- First degree burns. This injury is comparable to sunburn. The victim can expect minor pain and redness (erythema) on the epidermis, the top layer of skin. Generally, the burn will heal over a few days. Some evidence suggests that these burns may be associated with an increased risk of skin cancer later in life.
- Second degree burns. The damage extends to the lower layers of the skin—the papillary or reticular dermis. Blisters form, and the site is moist and extremely painful to the touch. Bacterial infection and cellulitis are risks with this category of burns. Healing may require several weeks to a month.
- Third degree burns. The skin is charred at all layers and appears dry and leathery. The site is usually painless because of nerve damage. Natural healing is impossible; the skin must be surgically excised and skin grafts used. The chance of infection is very high.
- Fourth degree burns. The skin is incinerated at all layers; muscle tissue and bone are charred. Severe nerve damage renders the injury site painless. This is a life-threatening injury that may require amputation or extensive plastic surgery. The risk of infection and gangrene is very high.
The combination of suffocation (also called asphyxiation) and smoke inhalation during a Wilmington residential fire can be devastating. Breathing injuries are the primary causes of death in U.S. house fires.
There are three different components of these injuries:
- Oxygen-depleted air. A burning fire consumes oxygen from the air. The remaining mix of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide cannot keep a person alive. Carbon monoxide is toxic and bonds more closely than oxygen to the hemoglobin in the blood, making it difficult to revive a patient with oxygen therapy alone. Prolonged exposure to oxygen-depleted air causes confusion, drowsiness, and death.
- Inhaled hot gases. Inhaling superheated combustion products can scorch and scar nasal passages and lung tissue. This can lead to permanent and disabling lung problems.
- Smoke. Smoke consists of carbon particles, ash, volatile organic compounds, and a variety of toxic gases including hydrogen sulfide. These can damage the respiratory system permanently, congest or obstruct breathing, and cause seizures and coma.
Know Your Rights—And Find Someone to Defend Them
If you or a loved one has been involved in North Carolina house fire or has sustained serious burn injuries, our Wilmington personal injury law firm can help. While you focus on your recovery, we can assist you by dealing with the insurance adjusters or negotiating with the liable party so you can get the care you need. At Speaks Law Firm, we offer compassion and a helping hand for fire victims. Call us today at 910-341-7570 locally or 877-593-4233 toll-free to schedule a FREE, no-obligation consultation.