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Beach Fire Pits Restricted in Southern California

Photo by bobbi vie

Despite vocal opposition from some beachgoers, the South Coast Air Quality Management District board today approved restrictions on fire pits on Southland beaches.

The restrictions require fire pits to be kept at least 700 feet away from the nearest residence. The rings can be closer than 700 feet to residences if the rings are at least 100 feet apart from each other -- or at least 50 feet apart if a city has 15 or fewer rings.

The measure also includes restrictions on beach fires on high-pollution days, but that only happened once last winter, according to Sam Atwood of the AQMD.

"The vast majority of fire pits will not be affected," Atwood said. "There are entire beaches where none of the fire rings will be affected."

The biggest effect is expected to be in Newport Beach, officials said.

The restrictions also include pilot programs for fire rings powered by natural or propane gas instead of wood.

The board voted 7-6 to approve the restrictions, despite a lengthy public hearing during which supporters of the fire pits decried any effort to restrict or ban the fires.

AQMD board member Josie Gonzales, a San Bernardino County supervisor, said the restrictions are essential to prevent excess pollution from beach fires.

"It does not jeopardize the existence or the use of the fire pits," she said. "And it is imperative that protecting the public health be a priority beyond being popular."

The issue has generated its own heat in recent months since Newport Beach officials sought a ban on the fire rings in their city. They withdrew the application when it appeared the state Coastal Commission, at a meeting it held Thursday, would block Newport Beach's effort to remove 60 fire rings in Corona del Mar and the Balboa Peninsula.

Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff said the City Council will likely vote on a new plan for fire rings within the next couple of months. In March, the council voted to remove all of the fire rings in the city, but a compromise is likely to emerge as some residents have come out in support of the beach bonfires, Kiff said.

The AQMD's vote today "opened the door to a local compromise" with community input, Kiff said.

"The council could decide to keep them and spread them out, change the fuel source on some or all of them, or possibly declare them a nuisance and remove some or all of them," Kiff said. "There are a lot of different options."

Newport Beach's application to the Coastal Commission got the AQMD involved because the commission wanted to get scientific data on the health effects of the fire pits before making a decision. That led the AQMD to consider a total ban on the fire pits along much of the Southern California coast, prompting outcries from officials in Huntington Beach, San Clemente, and elsewhere who want to maintain the tradition.

Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry and Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, who serves on the AQMD board, developed a proposal for restrictions and natural gas pilot programs.

Traditionalists enjoy fire rings and say it is a low-cost form of recreation. Supporters also say they generate business from beachgoers. Opponents say the smoke from the bonfires pose health risks.

Under the guidelines approved today, cities maintaining the fire rings must adhere to a standard on pollution that does not exceed 100 fine particulates on the air quality index. Under that criteria, Dockweiler State Beach, Huntington City Beach, and Bolsa Chica State Beach will not be affected by the restrictions on fire rings.

Huntington State Beach will have to remove about 30 fire rings within 700 feet of a mobile home park, and fire rings at Corona del Mar State Beach and Balboa Beach will have to be removed or put elsewhere because they are too close to residences. Doheny State Beach will be most affected because homes are within 700 feet.

Two or more fire rings may have to be removed at Capistrano Beach Park, but the restrictions will not affect fire rings in Aliso Beach County Park and along the San Clemente and North Beach coast.

Newport Beach could install 10 fire rings fueled by propane or natural gas instead of wood. That must be approved by the City Council and Councilwoman Leslie Daigle has signaled her opposition, saying some firefighters think the proposal is "lame and dangerous."

Fire pits built for the disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act would be exempted from the restrictions, Atwood said.

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