Authorities in Orange County are puzzling over a scientific mystery: Why did a woman’s clothing catch fire after she put some rocks in her pocket collected on a San Clemente beach?
The 43-year-old woman suffered third-degree burns in the ordeal, a fire official said, after the cargo shorts she was wearing burst into flames on Saturday.
According to the Orange County Register, the woman had been at one of the Trestles beaches at San Onofre, where she pocketed two stones described as “the size of a hamburger patty, smooth and orange and green in color.” At about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, an hour after returning from the beach to her home on Avenida De La Estrella, the woman was in her kitchen when the stones simply caught fire.
The woman tried to stop, drop and roll but couldn't extinguish the flames, said Capt. Marc Stone of the Orange County Fire Authority.
The rocks eventually fell from the shorts onto the wooden floor, where they continued to burn and fill the house with smoke. The woman's husband -- who also suffered second-degree burns to his hand trying to put out the flames -- managed to get the shorts off his wife and was spraying her with a garden hose on the front deck when firefighters arrived, Stone said.
Both were taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana. The woman has been undergoing surgery to repair severe second- and third-degree burns on her right leg between the hip and knee, as well as on her right arm, according to reports.
Stone said firefighters took the rocks with them to show to doctors, and that “The rocks were still smoking when firefighters took them to the hospital.”
The paramedic who treated the woman said he’d never seen anything like it in his 27 years responding to calls near the beach, Stone added.
Authorities are still flummoxed, and investigators are conducting tests on the mysterious rocks. Stone said it could take weeks to complete the investigation.
“There is phosphorous that naturally occurs on the sand at the beach, but no one has ever heard of pants catching fire,” Stone told the Register.
-- Associated Press contributed to this report.