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Accidents stir city to act against beach fires

It has been a difficult few weeks for Phillip R. Klimpel and Joseph Oliver O'Riordan, two toddlers who were burned badly by sand-covered coals at a beach along the Courtney Campbell Causeway. With bandages on their hands and feet, the little boys are in the same room at Tampa General Hospital. Phillip, 22 months old, had dead flesh removed from his toes and may need skin grafts on the bottom of his feet. Joey, 14 months old, may need skin grafts on his right hand.

"The worst part is over, but if they go for skin grafts that's going to be a different ball game," said Patti O'Riordan, who has not left her son since the accident. "Right now they're both doing fairly well as far as the pain situation."

While the boys were recuperating Thursday, city officials were discussing ways to prevent such injuries. The boys were burned within a few hours of each other on Feb. 4 at Ben T. Davis Municipal Beach. Their families believe they were burned by the hidden remnants of an illegal bonfire.

Joe Abrahams, the city's parks administrator, told the City Council that Tampa Police Department officials would step up patrols of the beach, where bonfires are illegal. Signs prohibiting the fires would be posted, he said.

Abrahams said the boys were not burned by the remnants of bonfires, but by coals that had been dumped from a barbecue grill and covered with sand.

"Many of us have been told over the years to do that _ if you want to get rid of coals, bury it," he said, adding that the coals had not been buried deep enough and had not had water poured on them.

He said the city will put a piece of a sewer pipe next to each beach shelter and post signs directing people to dispose of hot coals from grills in the pipes.

"You can see where the (bon)fires had been and can keep away from there," he said.

Already, one accident has sparked legal action.

William F. Merlin, Jr., an attorney for the Klimpels, recently sent a letter to Mayor Sandy Freedman, indicating the Klimpels' intent to sue the city. Merlin contends the city was negligent because it did not enforce regulations against beach fires and did not clean up the debris. Just last Saturday, he said, Phillip A. Klimpel, the boy's father, drove out to the beach and saw a bonfire blazing.

Phillip suffered first-,second- and third-degree burns on his arms, legs, hands and feet when he stumbled on the pile of coals while walking with his mother.

Three hours earlier, Joseph Oliver O'Riordan stepped on a pile of coals when he ran toward the water to chase a sea gull.

Briefing the City Council, Abrahams also said the city was planning to clean up Ben T. Davis beach.