An off-duty firefighter suffered horrific burns after an ‘innocuous’ pebble turned out to be an highly flammable object.
Ian Stewart had been out walking his dog on Blyth beach when he picked up what he thought was a pebble and put it in the back pocket of his jeans to take home.
But within minutes he was screaming in agony after the object – which turned out to be white phosphorous used in munitions – had ignited and set his jeans and lower back on fire.
A mother and daughter passing by were on hand to help get his burning jeans off while he was able to call his wife, who arrived on scene just as paramedics took him away.
However, paramedics faced their own challenge while treating Ian, as the phosphorous continued to burn while they wrapped the wound to keep out the air.
Ian spent three weeks in the burns unit at the RVI in Newcastle undergoing several skin grafts.
If a little child had picked it up they could have lost their life or a limb with the combustion as it went up.Ian Stewart
Now recuperating at his home in Blyth, Ian said: “I had been walking along the beach near the old wartime bunker when I saw this nice stone, an orange/amber colour, and thought it would be nice to take home to put with other things I have collected on the beach.
“There was nothing sinister about it, it looked nice and pretty.
“All of a sudden it ignited and exploded. My jeans were on fire, my legs were on fire. I tried to get my shoes off.
“I tried to pull my jeans off and a woman walking past helped as well. There is nothing left of my jeans.
“The whole back of my leg is burned and I have had to have a skin graft. The base of my back is also burnt and I had to have a skin graft there as well.”
Ian, who suffered 12 per cent burns, is now warning people to be on their guard if out on the beach.
“What I don’t know is how it ended up on the beach,” he told the News Post Leader.
“There could be other bits lying around on the beach.
“I just want to share my story and ensure people are careful what they pick up on the beach.
“If a little child had picked it up they could have lost their life or a limb with the combustion as it went up. If I’d had my own kids there I would have given it to them to carry home.
“After my incident the police shut the beach and sniffer dogs were called but I’m told they couldn’t find any more white phosphorous.
“I’ve been back down to the beach but I am more aware now and if I see something I won’t pick it up.”
Ian is still going to the RVI twice a week to have his wounds treated and bandages replaced and is expecting to be off work for another two months as his recuperation continues and skin grafts heal.
And he is full of praise for staff at the hospital.
Ian said: “The staff were fantastic, they provided me with 24 hour care. I was in a bad way during the first week but they talked me through what would happen and the procedures.
“I cannot thank them enough.”