Determination of burn severity (i.e. burn depth) is important for effective medical management and treatment. Using a recently described acute burn model, we studied various morphological parameters to detect burn severity. Anaesthetized Sprague-Dawley rats received burns of various severity (0- to 14-s contact time) followed by standard resuscitation using intravenous fluids. Biopsies were taken from each site after 5 h, tissues fixed in 10% neutral-buffered formalin, processed and stained with haematoxylin and eosin. Superficial burn changes in the epidermis included early keratinocyte swelling progressing to epidermal thinning and nuclear elongation in deeper burns. Subepidermal vesicle formation generally decreased with deeper burns and typically contained grey foamy fluid. Dermal burns were typified by hyalinized collagen and a lack of detectable individual collagen fibres on a background of grey to pale eosinophilic seroproteinaceous fluid. Intact vascular structures were identified principally deep to the burn area in the collagen. Follicle cell injury was identified by cytoplasmic clearing/swelling and nuclear pyknosis, and these follicular changes were often the deepest evidence of burn injury seen for each time point. Histological scores (epidermal changes) or dermal parameter depths (dermal changes) were regressed on burn contact time. Collagen alteration (r(2) = 0.91) correlated best to burn severity followed by vascular patency (r(2) = 0.82), epidermal changes (r(2) = 0.76), subepidermal vesicle formation (r(2) = 0.74) and follicular cell injury was useful in all but deep burns. This study confirms key morphological parameters can be an important tool for the detection of burn severity in this acute burn model.