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Woman injured by burning rocks: 'My pants were on fire.'

May 18, 2012 |  9:12 am


The woman recovering from second- and third-degree burns after rocks she picked up at San Onofre State Beach ignited in her pocket said she initially believed she was bit by a bug.

"We were talking about who was going to pick up the babysitter," Lyn Hiner told ABC's "Good Morning America" in an interview from her hospital bed. "And all of a sudden something hot on my leg just sort of started to bother me, so I started thinking it was a bug bite so I started slapping it and the next thing I know my pants were on fire."

When the rocks fell to the floor of her San Clemente house, they continued to burn the wood, she said. Her husband's hands were also burned as he tried to help her, and the "rocks were still smoking when firefighters took them to the hospital," Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Marc Stone said.

Authorities from the county health agency said two of the rocks contained a "phosphorus substance," a chemical element that can be highly flammable.

Rob Hiner, who appeared on the show alongside his wife, described the fire as a "bright, intense flame."

Fire authorities responded to smoke alarms in the couple's home that were set off because the flames in Lyn Hiner's pockets were so intense. "There were actual flames coming off of her cargo shorts," Stone told ABC News. "The husband was outside with a garden hose, actually trying to cool her leg down."

The Orange County Health Care Agency examined the two rocks and sent them on to a state laboratory for further testing, said Tricia Landquist, an agency spokeswoman.

Scientists have told The Times that they are puzzled by the mysterious fire and have never seen anything like it.

"It's pretty implausible," said Larry Overman, a professor of chemistry at UC Irvine. "I can't think of a scenario of chemicals on the beach that would have the properties that are described."

Andrew Borovik, also a chemistry professor at UC Irvine, had similar doubts. He said that phosphorus, which is typically kept in a controlled setting and stored in water -- could indeed ignite when air touches it. But he was unsure how the phosphorous substance could be part of a rock.

"I don't know if it exists just sitting around on the beach," Borovik said. "It just seems unlikely."


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