California Board Seeks to Ban Iconic Beach Firepits

Published July 9, 2013

California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District is proposing to give cities the authority to outlaw fire pits within their jurisdictions if they find the fires are nuisances. The proposal jeopardizes one of the iconic images of California’s surfer culture, where surfers often end the day around a fire pit on the beach.

The government proposal reflects American Lung Association opposition to beach fires, claiming they release too much air pollution.

Unprecedented Restrictions
For those fire pits that are not banned, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) proposes all must be located at least 700 feet from the closest residence and at least 100 feet from each other.

Sam Atwood, media relations manager for SCAQMD, told Environment & Climate News the group’s governing board has scheduled a vote on the issue this summer.

Concerned About Crowds
Several Southern California cities are debating whether to ban fire pits on the beach. Beachgoers oversee approximately 850 beach fire pits in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. Some landowners complained about the crowds and noise, asking government regulators to ban the fire pits to keep people off the beaches at night.

ALA Alleges Health Threats
A spokesperson for the American Lung Association in California says the fire pits are a health threat.
“Fire rings are creating hazards in communities that are damaging to one’s health and to the health of residents who live nearby,” said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior director for policy and advocacy for the American Lung Association in California. “We’re very concerned about the impact of the smoke, … and it contributes to asthma attacks, strokes, a number of respiratory illnesses, and it can even cause premature death.”
Holmes-Gen said particulates in wood smoke are especially dangerous to young, developing lungs. Holmes-Gen said teenagers and young adults, the very people supposedly at the greatest risk from beach fires, are the most frequent attendees at the fire pits.
“People do have to be very cautious,” Holmes-Gen said.
Residents Rally for Fire Pits
But not all agree. Southern Californians are rallying in support of beach fire pits. Members of the state legislature, a majority of board members for the California Coastal Commission, and a growing number of California residents decry the idea of losing a cherished and longstanding summer pastime.

“Our staff recommendation is for denial [of the SCAQMD’s proposal],” said Sarah Christie, a legislative director for the California Coastal Commission.

The California legislature passed a resolution supporting beach fire pits.

Cultural Contributions Cited
Assembly Concurrent Resolution 52 recognizes “the tradition and cultural significance of fire rings on state beaches as part of California’s recreational and community activity, and beach lifestyle.”

“This measure would support the protection of California’s beaches, access to those beaches, and important traditions that are integral to the state’s culture and beach lifestyle, such as fire rings,” the resolution states.

The resolution states an “important beach attraction is the time-honored tradition of a beach bonfire in a fire ring that California residents and visitors enjoy as the sun goes down over a perfect California beach evening.

“Beach bonfires are a safe and inexpensive recreational activity and are enjoyed by all the members of our community, regardless of socioeconomic class.… Beach attractions result in optimum economic and community activity, from gatherings of family and friends, beach barbeques, community events, and beach sports, and much more,” the resolution reads.
“California has such a wonderful history and beach culture that is deeply woven into our communities, especially in Southern California,” said the resolution’s sponsor, Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Dist. 72), in a press statement. “Beach bonfires positively contribute to communities culturally and economically.”
Cheryl Chumley ([email protected]) is a news writer with The Washington Times.