This retrospective analysis of burn patients in a University Hospital in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, was carried out to characterize this population and to identify the factors that affect the mortality rate. All patients hospitalized from January 1990 to April 1995 (n = 229, 3.6 patients/month) and who terminated treatment were included. Of these, 80.8% (185 patients) were hospitalized within 24 h of the burn. Occupational and/or domestic accidents were responsible for most of the burns (78.6%), which were mainly caused by a direct flame (71.2%). with alcohol being the flammable fluid most frequently used. The average patient treated at the center was a male of 9 years of age or less with 20-40% burned body surface, who received care within 24 h after suffering an accidental alcohol burn and who was hospitalized for < or =30 days. The mortality rate was 18.8% for all patients and increased with burned body surface and age, and for suicide patients. Suicide attempts for all patients > or = 18 years were the cause of 46 .5% (20/43) of the burns involving women and of 8.9% (8/90) of the burns involving men. The mortality rate was significantly higher for self-inflicted burns (42.9%) than for accidental burns (20.2%).