What is the rubbing alcohol challenge? South Carolina boy severely burned himself

(Editor’s note: Neither the male in the video nor the male in the photo are the Spartanburg boy.)

A Spartanburg County boy is recovering at a burn center in Augusta, Georgia, after officials believe he set himself on fire while attempting to participate in a social media-fueled dare called the “rubbing alcohol challenge.” 

The challenge, which is sometimes referred to as the “fire challenge,” involves people dousing parts of their body in rubbing alcohol or a similar fast-burning liquid and lighting it on fire. The challenge has been around since at least 2012.

Spartanburg Fire Marshal Brad Hall said a 12-year-old boy was flown to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta with severe burns covering about 40 percent of his body. 

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Hall said the boy was home alone at the time. Investigators haven’t yet been able to interview the child, but Hall said his school resource officer spoke with friends who said he may have been attempting the challenge.

Hall said authorities found two bottles of rubbing alcohol and a lighter in the room where the boy was burned.

Human skin burns at about 130 degrees, according to Hall. Depending on the concentration of the rubbing alcohol or similar liquid used in the challenge, Hall said it can burn at temperatures upwards of 1,000 degrees.

The challenge is not new to social media. Much like the cinnamon challenge or the condom snorting challenge, it has been around for years.

In the summer of 2014, USA TODAY reported a 15-year-old from Kentucky was seriously injured while attempting the fire challenge. Just three days later, USA TODAY shared a similar story out of California.

Some of the videos of the challenge that are shared online show people dousing their hands or arms in the liquid. Because rubbing alcohol is a thin substance, there isn’t a lot to burn, so the fire can last just a few seconds. 

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Hall said the risk goes up when the rubbing alcohol gets on clothes because the fabric can ignite. The risk also increases when the alcohol is poured on the chest or near the face.

Hall said the Spartanburg boy had injuries that suggested he poured the alcohol on his chest and upper body.

“To do that, particularly on your upper body close to your face, is extremely life threatening,” Hall said. “You’ve got all kinds of vital parts there, particularly your airway.”

The Spartanburg boy is still being treated in Augusta.

Hall said his family is staying in Augusta with help from the Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation, which provides housing and food for families of burn victims. The nonprofit also helps to cover some of the bandage costs during recovery, Hall said.

Hall said this was the first time his department has responded to an incident that appeared to be related to this online challenge. He said he’s reached out to departments across the state and hasn’t yet heard of any similar cases in South Carolina.