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Beach fire pits: Both sides weigh in at public hearing

Beachgoers sit around a fire pit in this undated file photo.
March 28, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Fire pits at all Southern California beaches may soon be banned. A Thursday meeting in Diamond Bar was the first public hearing for amendments proposed by the Air Quality Management District.

Citing health concerns, the amendments would prohibit out-door burning on all beaches from Malibu to San Clemente.

It all started with Newport Beach. Its residents want the pits gone, citing concerns over air quality and residents' health. However, neighboring city Huntington Beach is fighting against it, saying the fire pits are a part of beach culture. The city has also started a petition to save the fire pits.

For many, the fire pits burning along the Southern California coast are a part of the state's heritage. It's a way of life now being threatened by Newport Beach residents, who are convinced they are a health hazard.

"Especially in the winter time, when the inversion layer and the smoke just settles right at our front door," described Newport Beach resident Francis Peters. "But as we become increasingly aware of the health impact from the smoke and the PM 2.5, we're increasingly concerned."

These concerns prompted the Air Quality Management District to take a look at the issue, and they admit at least locally, there are health concerns.

"We know that in and of itself, the exposure at the beach, in some cases it's involuntary exposure, it can pose a hazard, a public health impact, to the beachgoers in the nearby residents," said Tracy Goss, an AQMD project supervisor.

A decision by AQMD to ban fire pits will not only include Newport Beach but every beach in Orange and Los Angeles counties. This has some people worried - not just about tradition, but the local economies.

"Our city parking receives over $1 million annually just in parking for bonfire pits, those are people arriving after 3 o'clock, so that's huge. And one of our hotels, they sell $50,000-$60,000 of s'mores kits," said Madison Fisher with the Huntington Beach Visitors Bureau.

One possible compromise AQMD is looking at are fire pits that use propane or natural gas. The fires would still burn on the beach without the pollution endangering the health of coastal residents.

Some residents say the beaches are different at Newport Beach versus Huntington Beach. Huntington Beach residents say their beaches are bigger, with more room for smoke to dissipate.

The Newport Beach City Council has already voted unanimously to remove all 60 fire pits. Since the pits are located on state beaches, however, the city needs the OK from the California Coastal Commission before removing them. That process has hit a few delays, with the commission saying the city has not offered clear evidence that wood smoke is harmful to people.

Earlier this month, the California Coastal Commission postponed a decision on Newport Beach's request to remove fire pits from the city's beaches because that agency wanted to wait for feedback from the AQMD.

The AQMD is set to vote on the issue in May.


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