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, 37 (2), e161-5

The Fire Challenge: A Case Report and Analysis of Self-Inflicted Flame Injury Posted on Social Media

Case Reports

The Fire Challenge: A Case Report and Analysis of Self-Inflicted Flame Injury Posted on Social Media

Andrew H Avery et al. J Burn Care Res.

Abstract

With the advent of social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, online dissemination of exhibitionist videos has gained popularity. One recent disturbing trend is the "fire challenge" wherein a participant douses his or herself in a household accelerant such as isopropyl alcohol or acetone, sets him or herself ablaze, and attempts to extinguish the flames before serious burns are incurred. As expected, participants in the "fire challenge" often accidentally suffer serious burns. A 17-year-old white male was recently treated at our burn center after participating in the "fire challenge." He suffered 15% TBSA full and partial thickness burns requiring split thickness skin grafting to his abdomen. He reported lighting himself on fire because he had seen this stunt performed on the internet. A search for "fire challenge" and similar terms was conducted on YouTube (www.youtube.com). Gender and ethnicity of each participant were documented. Burn size, burn depth, and age of video participant were estimated by two attending burn surgeons evaluating YouTube videos. Results were reported with descriptive statistics. The search yielded thousands of hits, mostly home videos, compilations of stunts, and commentaries. After omitting duplicate and irrelevant videos, 50 videos were selected for the study. Of these, 13 videos included postburn footage demonstrating burn wounds of various location, size, and severity. Of these burns, the median TBSA burned was 4 ± 2.7% with a maximum size of 10%. Superficial and partial thickness burns were sustained on the torso (10/13, 77%), face (4/13, 31%), and extremities (2/13, 15%). Full thickness burns were seen in 2/13 videos. Some burn wounds were obscured by dressings. Of the 50 videos reviewed, 45/50 participants (90%) were male and 32/50 (64%) were African American with 29/50 participants (58%) estimated to be under age 20. The "fire challenge" is a popular social media phenomenon, but it can result in severe injury as seen with the patient at our institution. The lure of a challenge and potential for a shocking video to "go viral" might entice people to mimic this risky behavior. This study shows a disturbing trend, but undoubtedly only reflects a small portion of actual participants. A disproportionate number of videos featured young African American males, making this a target population for education and prevention efforts. Our patient's TBSA exceeded the maximum found on YouTube, suggesting that less severe burns may be posted online while larger burns are not, diminishing perceived risk and encouraging this behavior.

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