Stricter Regulations Approved for Southern California Beach Fire Rings

More than 500 fire pits dot the Southern California coast to be used by beachgoers year-round, free of charge. For many, spending the day in the water and starting a bonfire in the fire pits at night are a cheap and almost traditional way to spend summer—and definitely not something they are ready to give up anytime soon.

Last month, however, the Southern Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) regulators suggested the removal or relocation of many fire pits down the Southern California coast. They claim that small particle pollution, which come from the bonfires pose a serious health risk to the residents of the beachfront houses on the coast. A study conducted has shown that the pollution from one fire pit alone is comparable to standing next to three diesel-run vehicles. Since more than one fire pit is located on each given beach—with Huntington Beach boasting over 500 fire pits on its shores—the accumulation of the small particle pollution has made beachfront residents and air regulators worried for their health. Additionally, as they are now, most of the fire pits are too close to the homes of residents; the buffer zone is less than 700 feet, especially in beaches like Newport.

The air district proposed that new regulations be imposed on the fire rings. Studies supported by the air quality regulators found that over 700 feet away, the particle pollution becomes more distributed and scattered than when they are closer. This led to the proposal that fire pits must be at least 700 feet away from any residences, unless they are spaced out 100 feet apart. The new proposal will also let each city decide on their own whether or not to ban beach fires. This new proposal would mean the elimination or relocation of many fire pits; in the case of Newport Beach, the new proposal would mean the elimination of all of its more than 60 available fire pits.

With growing bans and regulations already placed on many different beaches–such as the banning of smoking in most beaches, the inability to use frisbees when the beach is crowded, and the ban of alcohol in San Diego–many are outraged by the new proposal and argue that this is just another trick of wealthy beachfront residents to take people away from their beaches. After all, the beach fires have been free from air regulations from many decades; starting now after so long seems somewhat arbitrary.

During a hearing held July 12, the California Coastal Commission questioned whether the new proposal was really needed. They have not seen an actual study conducted to test whether the less concentrated pollution that a 700-feet buffer zone actually reduces the health risk for residents. The regional air quality regulators have been monitoring the effects of the proposed new buffer zone, until the proposed new laws went under review during the hearing.

At the conclusion of the hearing, a 7-6 vote approved the proposed rules, effective beginning March 1, 2014. Although the SCAQMD has made a decision, and the new regulations will mostly only affect Newport Beach, many will most likely continue to fight for their traditions. The hearts of many are set on keeping the fire rings and they feel that air quality regulators might be better off focusing their efforts on fixing other, bigger pollution contributors.