Southern California authorities say phosphorous may have coated beach rocks that caused a woman's shorts to catch fire, leaving her with severe burns.
A mother and her children visited San Onofre State Beach Saturday, and spent the time enjoying the surf and collecting rocks. Seven of them.
The children played all afternoon with their beach souvenirs, but around 3:30 pm, the rocks caught on fire at their San Clemente home.
Authorities say the rocks burned through the mother's cargo shorts and damaged the family's wood flooring.
There was apparently enough smoke to set off the household detectors.
The woman’s husband tried to remove the rocks, but he received first and second degree burns on his hands during that attempt. He then called 911.
When firefighters arrived at the San Clemente home, the husband was using a hose to cool his wife’s burns.
According to paramedics, she received third degree burns on her thigh, and was transported to a nearby hospital burn unit.
“When I first heard that rocks caught on fire, my brain first thought impossible,” San Diego State University Geology Professor Pat Abbott, Ph.D. said.
Abbott didn’t believe the story until he saw photos of the rocks.
“I see this orange stuff, not in the rock, but on the rock and I think there is what caught on fire. Something made by humans and put on that rock by humans,” he said.
Abbott thinks the rocks rubbed together in her pocket and caused a spark.
Denise Fennessey of the Orange County environmental health division says Thursday that field tests indicated that the substance coating two rocks was phosphorous but they'll be sent to a state lab for verification.
She also says the flammable chemical could have ignited when exposed to air.
However, Abbott doesn't think the cause is natural.
“This beach is easy access to 20 million people, so we have so many possibilities for how it got here, there’s no reason to think it’s the Marines who did it,” he said.
Camp Pendleton is next door, as well as the nuclear power plant.
Camp Pendleton has reportedly said it’s willing to cooperate with investigators if necessary.
The state beach hasn’t warned beachgoers of the incident.