Newport Beach's fire rings comply with air quality rules, agency says

Newport Beach's fire rings comply with air quality rules, agency says
A bonfire at Corona del Mar State Beach; the South Coast Air Quality Management District says Newport Beach's charcoal- and wood-burning fire rings are in compliance with the rules. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Newport Beach's 60 beach fire rings — both wood and charcoal — are in compliance with the South Coast Air Quality Management District's rules, according to the agency's executive officer.

"I've had several discussions with Dave Kiff, the city manager," Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein said.


Kiff had asked for extra time so the city could finish moving the wood-burning rings to be 100 feet apart or past a 700-foot buffer zone near homes, as the agency requires.

Debates over the fire rings between neighboring Huntington Beach and Newport Beach erupted last year, with some people arguing that smoke from the rings is a health hazard. Others said the rings are a long-standing Southern California tradition. In March, the air management agency changed its rules, imposing strict spacing requirements on cities' fire rings.

The Newport City Council voted 5 to 2 on Jan. 13 to allow 30 wood-burning rings — 15 on the east side of the Balboa Pier and 15 in Corona del Mar — and Wallerstein said the rings are now spaced properly.

At beaches in Corona del Mar, some of the rings are now green and labeled in English and Spanish as charcoal-only. The wood-burning rings remain white.

Wallerstein said he is aware that the city is considering a permanent plan for fire rings. Residents can review the options on the city's website as part of a survey.

The Council also agreed last month to amend the city's coastal development permit with the California Coastal Commission to allow the burning of wood in all 60 of its fire pits, split among Corona del Mar, the Balboa Pier, the Newport Pier and Newport Dunes. The city must seek the commission's approval before moving forward.

Erin Prahler of the Coastal Commission said the panel will review the amended plan once all the necessary documentation is in hand. She said the city's action in 2013 to convert its rings to charcoal-only also required a coastal development permit, which Newport Beach didn't obtain.

"We did not pursue an enforcement action then, so we are working with the city to get the new plan before the commission as quickly as we can," she said.

"It's important to keep in mind this [current setup] is an interim configuration," Wallerstein said. "We're monitoring the situation. But the city is on the road to compliance" with the air management agency and the Coastal Commission.

Wallerstein acknowledged that having charcoal- and wood-burning rings separated by, in some cases, only a few feet could create enforcement problems. Newport Beach city staff also have acknowledged that a mixture of charcoal and wood is not recommended.

"We're aware of the issues, city staff is aware of the issues," Wallerstein said. "We're going to see how it goes."

Times staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.