I know what it's like to return from a beach with a pocketful of rocks. I used to walk all the way to the tip of Cape Cod when I spent the summer of 1986* in Provincetown, Massachusetts. That's where the best rocks could be found, so I would return home laden with specimens (which of course I still have!), many of them encircled with a ring, which someone told me was good luck. But I never had an experience like this - and the first responders don't remember anyone who has. "I talked to the paramedic who treated her, and in his 27 years in responding to calls near the beach, he's never seen this," remarked Capt. Marc Stone of the Orange County Fire Authority. Last Saturday afternoon, Lyn Hiner, 43, went to Trestles Beach (1st image) in San Clemente, California, with her family. She put the 7 rocks her daughters picked up (2nd and 3rd images) in her pocket and brought them home. She had been home for about an hour and was standing in the kitchen when the pocket of her cargo shorts caught fire. Seriously. "Stop, drop and roll" didn't extinguish the flames and she received severe 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns on her leg from her thigh to her knee and on her right arm (watch news report here, including photo of the burned shorts). According to the Orange County Register, "The rocks, described as small, the size of a hamburger patty, smooth and orange and green in color, fell from the shorts onto the floor and continued to burn the wood floor and fill the house with smoke." Her husband got 2nd-degree burns helping her off with her shorts and was hosing her down on the front deck with a garden hose when firefighters arrived. The couple were taken to Western Medical Center in Santa Ana, where the woman underwent surgery. There is some speculation that the fire had something to do with phosphorous that is said to occur naturally on the sand at the beach, but local geologist Pat Abbott says that the orange coloration in the rocks is not natural: "The orange has been added by a human being. I don't know if it's evil or incidental." The hazardous materials unit, the doctors, and the public health department are stumped, and Hiner remains in the hospital. "Tests are expected to take a few weeks because they are dealing with an unknown," said Stone.
*This was 5 years before I was diagnosed with MS and the hike was a rather arduous 30 minutes each way across a long breakwater, down the sandy coastal beach, and back via the bayside beach which - as I found out one time after running screaming from attacking seagulls - was a nesting area.