More than 30 fire pits along Doheny State Beach and the four at Capistrano Beach Park could soon be useless, if the South Coast Air Quality Management District votes to ban beachside fires in Orange and Los Angeles counties. Photo by Andrea Papagianis
On May 3, the South Coast Air Quality Management District could ban beachside fires in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Photo by Andrea Papagianis

With air quality proposal on the table, beachside fires could soon be banned at LA and OC state beaches

By Andrea Papagianis

No drinking. No smoking. No dogs. No beach fires?

What began as a local debate over whether or not the city of Newport Beach should remove dozens of fire rings from two beaches, Corona del Mar and Balboa, has grown into a two-countywide deliberation—between nostalgic beach-goers and state air quality officials—over the overall fate of Orange and Los Angeles county beachside fires.

Newport Beach’s city council voted last March to eliminate fire pits from two beaches—over community health concerns and resident complaints that beach fires had become a public nuisance. And over the course of the last year, the city sought California Coastal Commission approval to remove 60 fire rings.

Commission staff defended the fire pits and suggested keeping the fire pits as a free attraction to beachgoers, but the commission tabled its decision on the fire rings’ fate last month after state air quality officials became involved.

Dana Point Times
Dana Point Times

Now, a recently introduced proposal by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD)—the state air pollution agency for parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties and all of Orange County—could ban beach fires, year round, on state beaches from Playa del Rey to San Clemente.

In its findings, the commission pointed to an exemption in AQMD’s rules—for recreational fires—as a basis for allowing the rings to stay, but spokesman Sam Atwood for the South Coast Air Quality Management District said this exemption was misapplied.

Atwood added the air quality agency didn’t want the Coastal Commission, or any other agency, to use their regulations as a rationale for not allowing the removal of items deemed harmful by a municipality—such as fire rings, because in the end they are a source of pollution.

So, AQMD staff took up the issue, and along with other proposals, introduced a ban on open burning on all district beaches.

 “The reason for doing this is simple,” Atwood said. “It’s the same reason that we adopt all of our other regulations, and that is to protect public health.”

Currently, beachside bonfires are permitted in park-provided fire rings throughout 14 beaches in the two counties, but the proposal would render some 890 rings useless. And those opposed to the ban aren’t convinced health interests spurred the proposal.

“This appears to be a move by a small cadre of wealthy beach property owners in a well-heeled area of the county to deny the pleasures of a beach fire to the wide socio-economic sweep of the general public,” said Ed Neely, the spokesman for the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association (DSBIA).

Between Doheny State Beach and Capistrano Beach Park, Dana Point’s beaches are home to nearly 40 fire pits and neighboring San Clemente beaches to around 170.

Murrieta resident Bob Landwehr, who has vacationed in southern Orange County with his family for decades, and spends five months of the year beachside camping with his wife, fears the ban will put an end to an aspect of camping he and his family hold dear.

“We have pictures of grandma and grandpa before they passed, sitting around the fire ring with other relatives, cousins and uncles, and it’s been an integral part of our beach experience,” said Landwehr. “And I would very much hate to see it go away.”

Bill Brooks, president of the DSBIA echoed the same sentiment.

“This is a decision with statewide implications and if it passes here, it could spread up and down the state,” he said. “It’s an attempt to steal away historical and cultural traditions.”

But spokesman for the air quality agency, Atwood, held that this one-line proposed amendment—in the overall agency plan to get the district in line with federally implemented standards by 2015—was indeed introduced with the best interests of residents in mind.

“We know that wood smoke is not healthy to breathe, it contains thousands of pollutants, some of which are cancer causing,” Atwood said.

According to the SCAQMD staff report—which introduced the proposed ban, included in changes to Rules 444 and 445—residents in the agency’s district are exposed to “some of the highest ambient concentrations in the nation” of particulate matter—described by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a particle pollution, a mixture of very small particles and liquid droplets, made up of components such as acids, dust particles, organic chemicals and metals.

While often too small to see, many particle pollutants like dust, soot and smoke can be viewed with the naked eye. Levels of these pollutants are measured and tracked by regional Ambient Air Monitoring Stations, and are highly regulated by the EPA.

Atwood said the overall goal of the agency’s proposal was to tighten up and make existing rules more stringent to be in line with federal standards, Standards, he added, the air quality district was not currently meeting.

The proposed amendments to Rule 444, relating to wood-burning devices, and Rule 445, regarding open burning, could also lower the threshold required to declare no-burn days. Ultimately, this could increase the number of no-burn days placed on home-based wood-burning fireplaces and stoves.

According to the AQMD staff report, while smoke from firewood and opening burning is not the “largest source of the region’s particulate pollution,” it is one of the last “uncontrolled sources of particulates … and air quality modeling indicates that significant air quality improvements can be achieved by reducing these emissions.”

Brian Ketterer, California State Park Superintendent for the Orange Coast District—which includes six state beaches from Bolsa Chica to San Onofre—said the air quality agency hasn’t done enough research to implement this ban, and added he doubted they could get an accurate reading in just one-months’ time.

The SCAQMD Governing Board will meet on May 3, and is poised to decide on the proposed ban on beach fires in Orange and Los Angeles counties. Atwood said the agency’s findings would be available for public review before the meeting.

Proposed amendments to the air quality district’s rules would do not include a ban on charcoal or gas cooking at beaches. The SCAQMD board meeting on May 3 will be held at 9 a.m. at South Coast AQMD headquarters, 21865 Copley Dr., Diamond Bar.

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comments (13)

  • We camp about once a month, for a weekend, 7-8 times per year. What do I love about camping? Being outside, being with my family and friends and sitting by the fire roasting marshmellows!

    Leave the our tradition alone! Don’t take away the firepits!!! I’m sure the smoke from our firepit is doing little to no harm to the environment.

    I agree with Ed Neely who mentions that it is beach property owners who don’t like the smoke from the firepits and want this ban.

    Please other campers, get on board, be aware of this and let’s fight it!

      • There are hundreds of thousands of households doing the same thing in their backyard here in Southern California every day of the year. Their activity does significantly contribute to regional toxic air pollution.

        If they outlaw beach smoke pits, they must also outlaw backyard charcoal briquette smoke pits, which have recently been found to be even MORE toxic than wood smoke.

        People are on the board of SCAQMD who don’t even know what air is. They have low to no health literacy, and should be forced to pass minimum health literacy requirements with continuing education absolutely required. They routinely make very bad decisions that affect public health and we pay for their bad decisions with our of loss of health.


      • When there are budget cuts, the powers that be, always start with teachers and firemen. Why don’t they cut the AQMD? They could drop this agency and no one, except the people sucking up a paycheck, would notice or care.

    • Surely a charcoal fire would be just as good for roasting marshmallows?

      One fire might not do all that much harm, but, as the Greeks found out when the financial crisis drove more than a few away from cleaner alternatives: one fireplace pollutes the air as much as 1,000 cars –

      Woodsmoke contains many toxic chemicals, and was shown to cause up to 30 times as many cancers as the same amount of cigarette smoke –

      It’s important to consider the health of other beachgoers – enjoy the outdoors, but use gas rings or charcoal to cook and enjoy your food. It will taste all the better to know you did the right thing for your health and the environment.

      • Name one documented case of ill health due to beach fires? Show me the study. You can’t point out the toxic levels of wood fire compared to cigarettes without taking into consideration that you put a cigarette straight to your lips. Last I checked nobody is putting their face into a wood fire. Good grief, if you are so concerned about air quality I wonder if you use only solar power, only electric cars and only eat food that is grown from environmentally responsible farms. If not, you are a hypocrite.

  • Bi –

    We’re talking about fire pits at campsites and on the beach.

    We are not talking about home after home after home burning wood and soot covering our towns ….

    And of course you think this is causing global warming.

    You have a right to your opinion, but I don’t agree.

    Give me a break.

  • My wife and I were born here in California. We now reside in Nevada, but maintain a house in San Clemente. We visit here many times through out the year. And maintain close ties here in the once Golden State. One of the treasures of spending long days and nights at the beach are the wonderful times we spend around beach fires and camp fires with family, friends and strangers even. So the beach fires are going the way of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. I suppose one day in the not too distant future the AQMD will out law breathing too. And some wonder why people are leaving our once most beautiful state. It is rapidly becoming the Peoples Republic and not so Golden to live here anymore.

  • ““The reason for doing this is simple,” Atwood said. “It’s the same reason that we adopt all of our other regulations, and that is to protect public health.”

    That has to be one of the biggest lies I’ve ever heard.

  • This is beyond stupid. Just another example of a worthless bureaucracy trying to control every aspect of our lives. This has to stop. Stop funding these idiots.

  • Here is a link to a Facebook page that has been started – Save the Southern California Beach Bonfire Rings –

    Via that page you can find a petition to sign over on BUT .. is pretty sneaky putting other petitions in line before you SIGN. Beware of this!

    CaresAboutHealth – About your comments – Here is some knowledge for you since you must not be a camper or lover of beach bon fires – We love sitting around the bonfire … we usually do not cook our food over it. Try it you might like it. Have a S’more and you might get hooked.

  • >>> the overall agency plan to get the district in line with federally implemented standards by 2105

    2105? Really? Or is that 2015?

  • The staff report said it all in the key words “…one of the last UNCONTROLLED sources……”. These people can’t stand anything that they don’t control. That’s their entire function, to control everything. They get off on control. It keeps escalating year after year, and I seriously believe they will eventually try to control what we eat based on the gases given off by the cooking heat or by the gases we ourselves might give off from it. Frijoles, anyone?

    Airport Bob

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