Parents raise alarm about illegal beach parties after 2 kids step on hot embers

Parents are raising the alarm about illegal beach parties after two children burned their feet on hot embers from bonfires while on Toronto beaches this month. 

Police issue tickets for illegal bonfires after spike in parties with no physical distancing

Lara Cotnam Pagano says her five-year-old son got severely burned after a visit to Cherry Beach on July 4. (Keith Whelan/CBC)

Parents are raising the alarm about illegal beach parties after two children burned their feet on hot embers from bonfires while on Toronto beaches this month. 

The first incident happened 10 days ago to a five-year-old boy at Cherry Beach. And this past Sunday, a five-year-old girl had severe burns after stepping on what appeared to be hot coal at Woodbine Beach, her mother said. 

"As a mom, you panic, that's the first reaction ... You know, 'Oh my goodness, what do I do?" Karen Kininsberg told CBC Toronto. "All you do is you watch your kid in pain for hours and you're pretty helpless to it — it's terrible."

Kininsberg's daughter Eva was hurt just days after city authorities said they would crack down on beach parties — including issuing tickets for illegal bonfires due to a "significant increase" in the number of gatherings where police reported seeing many people not observing COVID-19 restrictions.

Kininsberg said she took her kids to Woodbine Beach in the east end because they were told the water was shallow and safe for the kids to play in. 

But then, she heard a scream. She looked over only to hear children yelling "Fire" and Eva limping toward her.

She said the family then took Eva to a doctor. Luckily, her child's foot began to heal and looked better the following day.

'He wouldn't stop screaming'

On July 4, Lara Cotnam Pagano had a similar experience with her five-year-old son Mason, who suffered second-degree burns at Cherry Beach.

He stepped on "hot embers of a buried campfire," she said.

"All of a sudden, I heard my five-year-old scream, 'Fire, fire! I stepped in fire!'" said Cotnam Pagano.

"He wouldn't stop screaming..It was a sound that will terrorize me forever."

Five-year-old Mason suffered severe burns shown in the photo submitted by his mother. (Submitted by Lara Cotnam Pagano)

She then ran and put his feet into the lake, hoping it would relieve the pain. 

But after calling the pediatrician, Cotnam Pagano said she was told to take Mason to SickKids where he had to spend the night.

In addition to the crackdown on beach parties, the city has also announced that parking at three popular beaches — Marie Curtis Park, Humber Bay West Park and Cherry Beach — will be restricted after 7 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 

Const. Alex Lee told CBC Toronto Thursday that people were not following physical distancing restrictions and that police are continuing to issue tickets, not only for bonfires but for loud parties, DJs, crowds and fireworks.

"Over the last several weekends, the City of Toronto has seen a significant increase in the number of people at Toronto beaches late into the evening who are not practising physical distancing," the city said in a release issued Thursday. 

Cotnam Pagano, for her part,  urges anyone who goes to the beach to follow the rules and keep everyone safe. 

"All I want is for parents to be educated and to understand that this is what has been happening at city beaches," Cotnam Pagano said. 

"I hope that the city puts more regulations in place, maybe more people patrolling and maybe more fines if these fires are left unattended."

With files from Ali Chiasson