KAPAA — Police are investigating an incident at Kealia Beach after a child was burned when he stepped on hot coals left on the sand.
Nathanael Rozsa, a 7-year-old with Down syndrome, was walking with his father, Tom Rozsa, when he suddenly felt something very hot, said his mother, Pamela Rozsa.
“They were looking at the tide pools at the north end of Kealia,” Pamela said. “He’s holding his dad’s hand when he bends down to the ground and screams, ‘Hot!’ Then he starts running toward the beach.”
Pamela said Nathanael began screaming and crying and when she came running over from where she was sitting about 15 feet away, the Rozsas looked down and saw that Nathanael had walked and fallen on his right side above hot, gray coals covered by a light layer of sand.
“It was like a booby trap,” Pamela said. “Tom could have easily stepped onto the coals. They were right in area that you walk by. There was nothing to distinguish you were going to step into this pit.”
A concerned crowd came over to check on Nathanael. Red blisters covered the 7-year-old boy from his right hip to his foot. He was rushed to Wilcox Memorial Hospital Emergency Room, where doctors told his parents that he had suffered second-degree burns.
Nathanael will have permanent scarring from the incident, doctors told Pamela Thursday.
The Kauai Police Department is investigating the incident, said county spokeswoman Sarah Blane.
Pamela Rozsa said she hopes that Nathanael, who loves the beach, will bounce back. Nathanael took up surfing about eight months ago after lessons from his father and loves to surf the waves of Kealia Beach.
“Nathanael will be missing at least a week of summer school. It’s really debilitating,” Pamela said. “The most heartbreaking thing is that he said he doesn’t want to go back to the beach or surfing because it’s too scary at the beach.”
Pamela said she believes the people who were burning the coals had a barbecue pit near the dirt road at the Kealia Beach parking lot.
“It was just right in the middle of where people walked,” she said. “When Nathanael walked over them, they were covered in sand.”
Kauai Fire Department Chief Robert Westerman said the community has a responsibility to keep public spaces safe and clean.
“Aside from being illegal, beach bonfires can cause health and safety concerns,” Westerman said. “Old fires covered in sand are difficult for beachgoers to detect and are likely to contain smoldering materials or used wood that contains nails. This could easily cause injury to unsuspecting bystanders, particularly children.”
Deborah Ward, Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman, said portable cooking stoves are legal to have at the beach as long as the coals are disposed of properly.
Coals have to be dumped in designated ash pits or receptacles, she said.
Beach bonfires on the ground are prohibited at state and county beaches and recreational parks, she said.
“Often people burning bonfires are not thinking about what’s being left behind after the wood is burned,” Ward said. “This includes burning coals which, when buried in the sand, are not extinguished but rather hold their heat for long periods. Anyone stepping into leftover bonfire pits where coals are still hot can be burned.”
According to Hawaii Administrative Rule 13-221-20, fires “… are only permitted in locations, including backcountry, wilderness and remote sections of the premises when a written permit has been secured …”
Any person caught violating the law can be fined $500 per day, according to HAR 13-221-20.