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How an Un-deflagrated Flare Deployed from a Military Aircraft Caused a 50% TBSA Burn Injury

Background: Aerial, infrared countermeasure flares are used by United States Air Force aircraft to lure a live, heatseeking “surface to air” or “air to air” missile as a diversionary tactic to help evade destruction. Unfortunately, an unquantifiable amount of such flares do not deflagrate (ignite) but fall to the ground. They can then be triggered to deflagrate by the subsequent handling of the device. This case report describes an un-deflagrated flare that was triggered by an unsuspecting civilian. The countermeasure flare reached a temperature of 3,400 degrees Fahrenheit, igniting the civilian’s clothes and causing severe burns that subsequently required burn center admission and treatment.

Case Report: A 50 year-old female living near a USAF bombing test range inadvertently “picked up” a metallic desert object. There was a subsequent deflagration of the flare burning the patient over 49% of her body. She was transported to the burn center. She underwent seven major operative skin excisions for her third degree burns, followed by subsequent wound closure with skin grafting. After being admitted for over fifty days she was discharged.

Discussion: The total burden of unexploded ordinance around the world is very large. While infrared countermeasure flares were designed to have an overall reliability greater than 96.25%, testing has shown that its reliability appears to be much closer to 99%. Handling an un-deflagrated flare is hazardous and must not be attempted. If any such ordinance is found, the individual should leave the ordnance in place and notify the local authorities.


Marc R. Matthews, John Davis, Brian S. Yoon, Paula A. Walker, Kevin N. Foster, Daniel M. Caruso and Patrick H. David

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