Grilling hotdogs on the beach and socializing around a summertime bonfire could be jeopardized under a new proposal that would ban fire pits on beaches in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Concerns about air quality and the health of beach area residents are at the heart of a possible rule change that would force the removal of 840 fire pits along Southern California beaches, including popular Dockweiler, Huntington and Bolsa Chica state beaches.
The changes are being discussed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which is considering two proposed amendments that would alter rules for wood-burning devices and open burning.
Residents and city officials gathered on Thursday at AQMD headquarters in Diamond Bar to share opinions on the proposals and discuss possible alternatives to a fire pit ban.
“There were strong opinions on both sides and we’ve received written comments and phone calls,” said AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood after Thursday’s meeting.
Attendees who support the proposals cited negative health effects that could be caused by wood-burning fire pits.
While some cities, such as Newport Beach, have vocalized support for removing fire pits, other cities, including Huntington Beach, have said banning fire pits would hurt their city's economy and culture.
“You feel sick, you cannot sleep. The soot is everywhere, including your bedsheets and pillowcases. I run fans for about an hour or two and then I try to fall asleep,” said Newport Beach resident Charles Farrell.
Newport Beach officials began discussing the issue of fire pits more than a year ago, City Manager Dave Kiff said. The Newport Beach City Council unanimously passed a proposal to ask the Coastal Commission for permission to remove its 60 fire pits from Newport beaches.
The city heard complaints from beach visitors who said they were concerned about the smoke from fire pits affecting their health, Kiff said.
“The information shows that even a little exposure isn’t safe,” Kiff said. “We want to be the place that if you want a smoke-free beach, you can come to our beach.”
The discussion in Newport Beach prompted the rule change being considered by AQMD.
If two or three bundles of wood are burned at each fire pit during the summer on Los Angeles and Orange county beaches, a quarter of a ton of particulates are emitted into the air, officials said.
“We know that wood smoke is hazardous to people’s health,” Atwood said. “We’ve also done some preliminary looks on air pollution on the beach and there definitely are elevated levels in residential areas downwind of these.”
The distance between residential areas and beaches with fire pits can affect the impact of air pollution on residents’ health, Atwood said.
In Newport Beach, homes are located as close at 500 feet to beaches with fire pits. However, in Huntington Beach, residential areas about approximately 1,900 feet from beaches with fire pits, said Laurie Frymire, Huntington Beach public information officer.
“We know the public does not want to stop using fire rings and burning fire wood,” Frymire said. “We have visitors line up before 5 a.m. -- before it opens -- to set up their chairs.”
Huntington Beach has estimated that the city will lose $1 million in parking revenue if it is forced to remove 130 fire pits from beaches, Frymire said.
The superintendent of California State Parks said the fire pits should stay.
Superintendent Barry Ketterer, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said fire pits are a popular location for socializing and a big attraction at the beaches.
“A fire is a gathering place, an open recreational place for gathering. A fire with its warmth and light draws people in,” Ketterer said at the meeting.
AQMD governing board is set to vote on the proposed rule amendments May 3.
The plan would affect the follow beaches, which are listed with the number of fire pits on site:
- Dockweiler State Beach, Playa del Rey, 90
- Point Fermin Park, San Pedro, 3
- Cabrillo Beach, San Pedro, 6
- Bolsa Chica State Beach, Huntington Beach, 182
- Huntington City Beach, Huntington Beach, 83
- Huntington State Beach, Huntington Beach, 200
- Balboa Beach, Balboa/Newport Beach, 33
- Corona del Mar State Beach, Newport Beach, 27
- Alisa Beach County Park, South Laguna, 7
- Doheny State Beach, Dana Point, 32
- Capistrano Beach Park, Capistrano, 4
- North Beach, San Clemente, 4
- San Clemente City Beach, San Clemente, 9
- San Clemente State Beach, San Clemente, 160
NBC4's Vikki Vargas contributed to this report.