Seaside fire rings still a hot topic in Newport Beach

Seaside fire rings still a hot topic in Newport Beach
Dave Osinga and his son Zachary, 6, sit by the fire as the sun sets at Corona Del Mar State Beach in March 2013. The pits have become controversial in Newport Beach. (Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles Times)

The debate over wood-fire rings continued to smolder this week as residents in Newport Beach complained about bringing the deeply nostalgic yet highly controversial wood-fire pits back to the seashore.

Some residents decried fire rings as a nuisance and air quality issue, while others complained to the City Council on Tuesday about the proposed locations for the bonfire pits, saying they should be limited to their traditional locations at Corona del Mar State Beach and near the Balboa Pier.


Some even emailed council members photos of the fire ring scene, one showing a large folding wooden table partially burned and left on top of a fire pit, as well as empty liquor bottles and other trash strewn along the beach.

The council, residents say, has a duty to prevent these types of nuisance problems, as well as address the health effects of wood smoke billowing into nearby homes.

"It's not like being around a bonfire where you can pick up your chair and move," said resident Janet Brown. "I can't pick up my house and move it."

In late January, the city submitted seven possible arrangements for 60 fire rings as part of its application to the state Coastal Commission for a permit.

Any change to the configuration or the density of the fire rings requires Coastal Commission approval, according to a staff report.

The Coastal Commission will review each of the plans, and either accept or modify one, which will go back to the City Council for ratification.

Plan 1, which was endorsed by a majority of the council members, would allow 18 fire rings at Corona del Mar State Beach, 26 near the Balboa Pier, nine north of the Newport Pier and seven at the west side of the Newport Dunes lagoon.

Plan 2 would place all 60 rings at Corona del Mar and Balboa Pier. However, the footprint of the rings would cover more beach area.

Alternative plans submitted to the Coastal Commission include keeping 60 wood-fire rings in their current location, but spacing them along the beach to achieve the required 100-foot distance, or placing rings along the stretch of beach between the Santa Ana River and 15th Street in addition to Corona del Mar State Beach and the Balboa Pier.

City staff members also proposed removing half of the rings during the winter, when demand is lower.

In 2013, the Air Quality Management District amended a rule to require a 700-foot buffer between bonfires and homes and designate "no-burn days" when fine particulates are at unhealthful levels. The policy is a softened version of a proposal that would have banned all beach bonfires in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

In response, Newport Beach began enforcing an interim ordinance that limited fuel in fire rings to charcoal. The AQMD considers charcoal cleaner burning than wood.

However, the California Coastal Commission has indicated that it probably wouldn't approve charcoal-only fire rings, Kiff said.

The commission and AQMD have argued for legal authority over the issue for more than two years, often leaving Newport Beach in the middle.


Plan 7, which city staff members also submitted to the Coastal Commission, would make all the fire rings along the beach charcoal-only.