This paper provides an overview of thermal injury resulting in death or hospitalization in New Zealand adults, defined as age 15 years and over. For the 10-year period 1978-1987, there were 493 adult thermal injury deaths resulting in an overall rate of 2.1 per 100000 person-years (95%CI: 1.9-2.3). For the year 1988, there were 644 hospitalizations resulting in a rate of 25.1 per 100000 (95%CI: 23.2-27.1). The highest rates of death and hospitalization were observed in the elderly (65 years of age and over). Young males (15-29 years) also had a very high rate of hospitalization. Residential fire was the most common type of burn event resulting in death (44%), and smoking materials were the most common source of ignition in fatal residential fires (37%). Hot liquids were the most common source of thermal energy for the hospitalized injuries (34%). Typical scenarios involved burns from hot water expelled from automobile radiators, from hot water use in the workplace, from hot beverages, and from household hot tap-water. The epidemiology of the adult thermal injuries in New Zealand is similar to that reported in other developed countries. Opportunities and strategies for the prevention of these injuries are discussed.