You probably are aware that comedian Jay Leno, an avid car collector and host of the show Jay Leno’s Garage, suffered burns on his face, hands, and chest in November.

While working on one of his many cars, gasoline leaked and caught fire, resulting in a mixture of second- and third-degree burns. Leno, 72, underwent several skin grafts and spent eight hours daily in a hyperbaric chamber to expedite the healing process.

He recently joked about his garage accident in the Wall Street Journal, where he wrote, “Eight days later, I had a brand-new face. And it’s better than what was there before.”

All joking aside, burns are serious and even deadly. National Burn Awareness Week, Feb. 5-11, is sponsored by the American Burn Association ( This nonprofit organization aims to stimulate and advance burn-related research, education, care, prevention, and rehabilitation.

Burns are classified as either first, second, or third degree. First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of the skin, leaving the skin red and painful. Second-degree burns leave the skin blistered and swollen, in addition to redness and pain. Third-degree burns destroy the epidermis and the dermis, sometimes affecting the bones, muscles, and tendons.

The proper treatment for first-degree burns is to immerse the site in cool water. Second- and third-degree burns require immediate medical treatment at a hospital or burn center. Some third-degree burns require skin grafts, a surgical procedure involving removing a thin layer of skin from an unburned part of the body to cover a burned area.

In the United States, one person sustains a burn every 60 seconds. Every year, about 400,000 people receive medical treatment for burns. Most burns occur in the home, with 47% of fires caused by cooking.

Adults 65 and older are at a higher risk of injury and death from a kitchen fire because of physical, visual, hearing, or mental impairments that may slow a quick action necessary in a fire emergency. The thinner skin of older adults burns faster and deeper.

Preventing a burn injury is better than the pain and trauma of medical treatment afterward. Injuries and fatalities can be avoided with safety devices and precautions.

For example, home sprinkler systems cut the risk of dying in a fire by 80%. A fire extinguisher is a valuable tool. Smoke alarms, fire-escape routes, and education on cooking and smoking safety are necessary safeguards. 

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, unattended cooking is the No. 1 cause of fires at home. Older adults sometimes forget to turn the stove off or may not realize their clothing has caught fire. 

These tips help you stay safe:

  • Always “stand by the pan” — never leave food unattended. Stay in the kitchen while frying, broiling, or grilling food. If you leave the room, turn off the stove.
  • Check regularly if you are simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food.
  • When heating food in the microwave, use microwave-safe cookware that allows steam to escape. Allow food to rest before removing it from the microwave. 
  • Turn the pot handles toward the back of the stove to prevent accidental bumping.
  • Keep areas around the stove clear of items that can burn.
  • Wear oven mitts or use potholders.
  • Be extra careful when deep frying. Use a pan lid or splash guard to prevent grease splatter.
  • Gradually heat cooking oils.
  • Wear shirts with tight or short sleeves. Exposed skin may burn, and long, loose sleeves are more apt to catch fire.
  • Keep baking soda handy.
  • After cooking, check the kitchen to ensure all burners and other appliances are turned off.


If food does catch on fire: 

  1. Cover the pan with its lid. A cookie sheet works too. Leave covered until the pan is cool. Never move the pot or carry it outside — the pot is too hot to handle, and the contents may splash, causing a severe burn.
  2. Turn the heat off. The fire should quickly put itself out with the lid on and the heat off. Never use water to put out a kitchen fire as it will cause the oil to splatter and spread the fire or scald you as it vaporizes.
  3. If the fire is inside the oven or microwave, keep the door shut and turn it off. Keep closed until the oven is cool.
  4. If the fire gets out of control — get out, stay outside, and call 9-1-1. Don’t return inside for any reason.

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