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Rocks spontaneously combust in woman's pocket

A woman's children find hamburger patty-sized rocks on a California beach. They like them, so she puts them in her pocket. Shortly afterward, her pocket catches fire and she suffers serious burns.

KABC-TV Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It isn't all that often that you find orange and green rocks on the beach.

Perhaps it was this that enchanted the children of a 43-year-old woman in Orange County, Calif., to pick up colored rocks on San Onofre State Beach.

As KABC-TV News tells it, the rocks were hamburger patty-sized and cute, so the woman put them in the pocket of her cargo shorts.

A few hours later, the rocks combusted and her shorts caught fire, leading to her suffering second- and third-degree burns to her leg, as well as burns to her right hand.

Her husband also suffered first- and second-degree burns to his hand as he tried to help.

A neighbor speculated that the rocks caught fire "due to friction." But that must have been quite some friction.

Capt. Mark Stone of the Orange County Fire Authority explained to KABC-TV that there were flames being emitted from her cargo shorts.

Local health officials say two of the rocks contained "a phosphorus substance," but there still seems no definitive explanation as to why they might have caught fire.

And why would there be phosphorus-covered rocks on a public beach? Where might the phosphorus have come from?

Some speculate this might have something to do with the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and the Camp Pendleton Marine base, both of which are nearby.

But chemical analysis will take a few more days to determine what substances were actually on these rocks.

So today is the day to reinforce to everyone that we should all be careful about what we pick up on the beach. It could come back to burn us later.