A 43-year-old woman was out at the edge of the Pacific Ocean last Saturday, playing with her kids at California’s San Onofre State Beach. At some point, the kids gave her two rocks they’d found. The woman pocketed them in her cargo shorts. It was a normal day… until she went home, that is.
Standing in her kitchen in San Clemente, Calif., the rocks suddenly caught fire, and her shorts burst into flames. To no avail, the woman followed the oft-repeated protocol, stop-drop-and roll. After her husband managed to pull off the burning shorts, the rocks fell to the floor and continued to sizzle and spread smoke through the family’s home, the Orange County Register reported.
“I spoke directly to the paramedic on the call,” Capt. Marc Stone of the Orange County Fire Authority told the Associated Press. “He’s worked 27 years as a paramedic and specifically on the beach areas, and it’s the first time he’s ever seen anything like this.”
The woman was taken to hospital with third degree burns, and is undergoing surgery, according to the Orange County Register.
Days later, reports are emerging that the rocks were coated in phosphorus, a naturally occurring mineral found in rocks that, in its elemental form, can burn when exposed to air. If confirmed, the origin of the phosphorus will remain a mystery, although early speculation points to a nearby military base called Camp Pendleton. There’s also a nuclear power plant in the area.